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Main article: Policy

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Google’s new T&Cs include a Brexit ‘easter egg’ for UK users

19:12 | 20 February

Google has buried a major change in legal jurisdiction for its UK users as part of a wider update to its terms and conditions that’s been announced today and which it says is intended to make its conditions of use clearer for all users.

It says the update to its T&Cs is the first major revision since 2012 — with Google saying it wanted to ensure the policy reflects its current products and applicable laws.

Google says it undertook a major review of the terms, similar to the revision of its privacy policy in 2018, when the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation started being applied. But while it claims the new T&Cs are easier for users to understand — rewritten using simpler language and a clearer structure — there are no other changes involved, such as to how it handles people’s data.

“We’ve updated our Terms of Service to make them easier for people around the world to read and understand — with clearer language, improved organization, and greater transparency about changes we make to our services and products. We’re not changing the way our products work, or how we collect or process data,” Google spokesperson Shannon Newberry said in a statement.

Users of Google products are being asked to review and accept the new terms before March 31 when they are due to take effect.

Reuters reported on the move late yesterday — citing sources familiar with the update who suggested the change of jurisdiction for UK users will weaken legal protections around their data.

However Google disputes there will be any change in privacy standards for UK users as a result of the shift. it told us there will be no change to how it process UK users’ data; no change to their privacy settings; and no change to the way it treats their information as a result of the move.

We asked the company for further comment on this — including why it chose not to make a UK subsidiary the legal base for UK users — and a spokesperson told us it is making the change as part of its preparations for the UK to leave the European Union (aka Brexit).

Like many companies, we have to prepare for Brexit,” Google said. “Nothing about our services or our approach to privacy will change, including how we collect or process data, and how we respond to law enforcement demands for users’ information. The protections of the UK GDPR will still apply to these users.”

Heather Burns, a tech policy specialist based in Glasgow, Scotland — who runs a website dedicated to tracking UK policy shifts around the Brexit process — also believes Google has essentially been forced to make the move because the UK government has recently signalled its intent to diverge from European Union standards in future, including on data protection.

“What has changed since January 31 has been [UK prime minister] Boris Johnson making a unilateral statement that the UK will go its own way on data protection, in direct contrast to everything the UK’s data protection regulator and government has said since the referendum,” she told us. “These bombastic, off-the-cuff statements play to his anti-EU base but businesses act on them. They have to.”

“Google’s transfer of UK accounts from the EU to the US is an indication that they do not believe the UK will either seek or receive a data protection adequacy agreement at the end of the transition period. They are choosing to deal with that headache now rather than later. We shouldn’t underestimate how strong a statement this is from the tech sector regarding its confidence in the Johnson premiership,” she added.

Asked whether she believes there will be a reduction in protections for UK users in future as a result of the shift Burns suggested that will largely depend on Google.

So — in other words — Brexit means, er, trust Google to look after your data.

“The European data protection framework is based around a set of fundamental user rights and controls over the uses of personal data — the everyday data flows to and from all of our accounts. Those fundamental rights have been transposed into UK domestic law through the Data Protection Act 2018, and they will stay, for now. But with the Johnson premiership clearly ready to jettison the European-derived system of user rights for the US-style anything goes model,” Burns suggested.

“Google saying there is no change to the way we process users’ data, no change to their privacy settings and no change to the way we treat their information can be taken as an indication that they stand willing to continue providing UK users with European-style rights over their data — albeit from a different jurisdiction — regardless of any government intention to erode the domestic legal basis for those rights.”

Reuters’ report also raises concerns about the impact of the Cloud Act agreement between the UK and the US — which is due to come into effect this summer — suggesting it will pose a threat to the safety of UK Google users’ data once it’s moved out of an EU jurisdiction (in this case Ireland) to the US where the Act will apply.

The Cloud Act is intended to make it quicker and easier for law enforcement to obtain data stored in the cloud by companies based in the other legal jurisdiction.

So in future, it might be easier for UK authorities to obtain UK Google users’ data using this legal instrument applied to Google US.

It certainly seems clear that as the UK moves away from EU standards as a result of Brexit it is opening up the possibility of the country replacing long-standing data protection rights for citizens with a regime of supercharged mass surveillance. (The UK government has already legislated to give its intelligence agencies unprecedented powers to snoop on ordinary citizens’ digital comms — so it has a proven appetite for bulk data.)

Again, Google told us the shift of legal base for its UK users will make no difference to how it handles law enforcement requests — a process it talks about here — and further claimed this will be true even when the Cloud Act applies. Which is a weasely way of saying it will do exactly what the law requires.

Google confirmed that GDPR will continue to apply for UK users during the transition period between the old and new terms. After that it said UK data protection law will continue to apply — emphasizing that this is modelled after the GDPR. But of course in the post-Brexit future the UK government might choose to model it after something very different.

Asked to confirm whether it’s committing to maintain current data standards for UK users in perpetuity, the company told us it cannot speculate as to what privacy laws the UK will adopt in the future…

We also asked why it hasn’t chosen to elect a UK subsidiary as the legal base for UK users. To which it gave a nonsensical response — saying this is because the UK is no longer in the EU. Which begs the question when did the UK suddenly become the 51st American State?

Returning to the wider T&Cs revision, Google said it’s making the changes in a response to litigation in the European Union targeted at its terms.

This includes a case in Germany where consumer rights groups successfully sued the tech giant over its use of overly broad terms which the court agreed last year were largely illegal.

In another case a year ago in France a court ordered Google to pay €30,000 for unfair terms — and ordered it to obtain valid consent from users for tracking their location and online activity.

Since at least 2016 the European Commission has also been pressuring tech giants, including Google, to fix consumer rights issues buried in their T&Cs — including unfair terms. A variety of EU laws apply in this area.

In another change being bundled with the new T&Cs Google has added a description about how its business works to the About Google page — where it explains its business model and how it makes money.

Here, among the usual ‘dead cat’ claims about not ‘selling your information’ (tl;dr adtech giants rent attention; they don’t need to sell actual surveillance dossiers), Google writes that it doesn’t use “your emails, documents, photos or confidential information (such as race, religion or sexual orientation) to personalize the ads we show you”.

Though it could be using all that personal stuff to help it build new products it can serve ads alongside.

Even further towards the end of its business model screed it includes the claim that “if you don’t want to see personalized ads of any kind, you can deactivate them at any time”. So, yes, buried somewhere in Google’s labyrinthine setting exists an opt out.

The change in how Google articulates its business model comes in response to growing political and regulatory scrutiny of adtech business models such as Google’s — including on data protection and antitrust grounds.

 


0

VCs to antitrust officials: We’d rather take our chances than see tech regulated

00:00 | 20 February

Last week at Stanford, antitrust officials from the U.S. Department of Justice organized a day-long conference that engaged numerous venture capitalists in conversations about big tech. The DOJ wanted to hear from VCs about whether they believe there’s still an opportunity for startups to flourish alongside the likes of Facebook and Google and whether they can anticipate what — if anything — might disrupt the inexorable growth of these giants.

Most of the invited panelists acknowledged there is a problem, but they also said fairly uniformly that they doubted if more regulation was the solution.

Some of the speakers dismissed outright the idea that today’s tech incumbents can’t be outmaneuvered. Sequoia’s Michael Moritz talked about various companies that ruled the world across different decades and later receded into the background, suggesting that we merely need to wait and see which startups will eventually displace today’s giants.

He added that if there’s a real threat lurking anywhere, it isn’t in an overly powerful Google, but rather American high schools that are, according to Moritz, a poor match for their Chinese counterparts. “We’re killing ourselves; we’re killing the future technologists… we’re slowly killing the potential for home-brewed invention.”

Renowned angel investor Ram Shriram similarly downplayed the DOJ’s concerns, saying specifically he didn’t think that “search” as a category could never be again disrupted or that it doesn’t benefit from network effects. He observed that Google itself disrupted numerous search companies when it emerged on the scene in 1998.

Somewhat cynically, we would note that those companies — Lycos, Yahoo, Excite — had a roughly four-year lead over Google at the time, and Google has been massively dominant for nearly all of those 22 years (because of, yes, its network effects).

 


0

Silicon Valley Community Foundation challenges donors to address local problems

20:48 | 15 February

Scott Bade Contributor
Scott Bade is a former speechwriter for Mike Bloomberg and co-author of "More Human: Designing a World Where People Come First."

Over the last decade, Silicon Valley Community Foundation has become one of the favorite destinations for tech philanthropy.

Counting Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Reed Hastings among its donors, SVCF has quietly become a philanthropic powerhouse. As a community foundation, it made $126 million in grants in 2018 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties (the latest year for which numbers were available), but its true power comes from the nearly $9 billion in donor-advised funds (also known as DAFs) it oversees.

DAFs have become popular among wealthy donors in recent years because they carry the tax benefits of a donation without requiring that an immediate donation be made. They also courted controversy, with critics accusing them of being a vehicle for tax sheltering.

Not so, says Nicole Taylor, SVCF’s CEO and president. Appointed a year ago after her predecessor was ousted in scandal, Taylor is working to change the image of DAFs while challenging her donors to take on the Bay Area’s unique challenges, like housing, inequality and transportation. I spoke to Taylor about how the tech sector can do better with its giving.

TechCrunch: Let’s start by explaining how a community foundation works?

Nicole Taylor: Community foundations are a vehicle for people who want to give that come with a far better tax advantage and advising advantage than setting up private foundations [whose] overhead is costly. Most people don’t want to go there; they want a place that helps them with their giving and they want to have that connection back to their local community.

Community foundations were started in the Midwest and are over 100 years old. There are over 800 of us. We serve particular geographic areas. Our core focus [at SVCF] is the Silicon Valley region, the two counties here – Santa Clara and San Mateo.

 


0

‘Capitalism generates a lot of wealth depending on the situation’

18:15 | 15 February

Greg Epstein Contributor
Greg M. Epstein is the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT, and the author of The New York Times bestselling book "Good Without God." Described as a “godfather to the [humanist] movement” by The New York Times Magazine in recognition of his efforts to build inclusive, inspiring and ethical communities for the nonreligious and allies, Greg was also named “one of the top faith and moral leaders in the United States” by Faithful Internet, a project of the United Church of Christ and the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society.

Ben Tarnoff is a columnist at The Guardian, a co-founder of tech ethics magazine Logic and arguably one of the world’s top experts on the intersection of tech and socialism.

But what I think you really need to know by way of introduction to the interview below is that reading Tarnoff and his wife Moira Weigel might be the closest you can get today to following the young Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in real time.

In September, Tarnoff published a Guardian piece, “To decarbonize we must decomputerize,” in which he argued for a modern Luddism. I’ve casually called myself a Luddite online for many years now:

But I wouldn’t previously have considered writing much about it online, because who in this orbit could possibly identify? Turns out Tarnoff, a leading tech world advocate for Bernie Sanders, does. Which made me wonder: Could Luddism ever become the next trend in Silicon Valley culture?

Of course, I then reviewed exactly who the Luddites actually were and thought, “aha.” Maybe I’ve finally found the topic and the interview that really truly will get me fired from my role as TechCrunch’s ethicist-in-residence; talking to a contemporary tech socialist about the people who famously destroyed machinery because they didn’t feel that it was ethical, humane or in service of their well-being doesn’t necessarily scream “TechCrunch,” does it?

So I began my interview by praising not only his piece on Luddism but several other related pieces he’s written and by asking (with tongue only semi-in-cheek) to please confirm that at least it’s a peaceful Luddism for which he is calling.

Ben Tarnoff (Photo by Richard McBlane/Getty Images for SXSW)

Tarnoff: Thanks for reading the pieces. I really appreciate it.

 


0

Surprise! Audit finds automated license plate reader programs are a privacy nightmare

22:55 | 13 February

Automated license plate readers, ALPRs, would be controversial even if they were responsibly employed by the governments that run them. Unfortunately, and to no one’s surprise, the way they actually operate is “deeply disturbing and confirm[s] our worst fears about the misuse of this data,” according to an audit of the programs instigated by a Californian legislator.

What we’ve learned today is that many law enforcement agencies are violating state law, are retaining personal data for lengthy periods of time, and are disseminating this personal data broadly. This state of affairs is totally unacceptable,” said California State Senator Scott Weiner (D-SF), who called for the audit of these programs. The four agencies audited were the LAPD, Fresno PD, and the Marin and Sacramento County Sheriffs Departments.

The inquiry revealed that the programs can barely justify their existence and not seem to have, let alone follow, best practices for security and privacy:

  • Los Angeles alone stores 320 million license plate images, 99.9 percent of which were not being sought by law enforcement at the time of collection.
  • Those images were shared with “hundreds” of other agencies but there was no record of how this was justified legally or accomplished properly.
  • None of the agencies has a privacy policy in line with requirements established in 2016. Three could not adequately explain access and oversight permissions, or how and when data would or could be destroyed, “and the remaining agency has not developed a policy at all.”
  • There were almost no policies or protections regarding account creation and use and have never audited their own systems.
  • Three of the agencies store their images and data with a cloud vendor, the contract for which had inadequate if any protections for that data.

In other words, “there is significant cause for alarm,” the press release stated. As the programs appear to violate state law they may be prosecuted, and as existing law appears to be inadequate to the task of regulating them, new ones must be proposed, Wiener said, and he is working on it.

The full report can be read here.

 


0

Trump administration aims to protect GPS with new exec order

22:29 | 13 February

GPS increasingly runs the entire planet. Supply chains, oceanic shipping, port docking, and even our daily movements in cars, on bikes, and walking around cities is dependent on a constellation of satellites hovering above us to make all this activity work in synchronicity.

Increasingly though, GPS is under attack. GPS spoofing, where the signals from GPS satellites are spoofed to send false data, can prevent devices from getting an accurate location or any location at all. One of our TechCrunch contributors, Mark Harris, wrote a great piece in the MIT Technology Review about a recent spate of spoofing incidents in Shanghai, where shipping vessels would suddenly jump around the harbor as different signals got picked up.

In addition to more direct attacks on GPS, the monopoly of the U.S. GPS system is also under increasing strain. China has launched its own satellite system known as Beidou, and other countries like Russia, Japan, and India as well as the European Union are increasingly attempting to augment America’s system with their own technology.

https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/21/the-gps-wars-have-begun/

GPS is one technology of a field known as Positioning, Navigation, and Timing services (PNT). GPS is perhaps best known for its ability to pinpoint a device on a map, but it is also crucial in synchronizing clocks, particularly in extremely sensitive operations where milliseconds are crucial.

The increasing economic importance of the technology, along with the increasing risk it faces from bad actors, has forced the Trump administration to act. In a new executive order signed yesterday, the administration created a framework for the Department of Commerce to take the lead in identifying threats to America’s existing PNT system, and also ensures that procurement processes across the government take those threats into account.

This process comes in the form of “PNT profiles,” which the executive order described:

The PNT profiles will enable the public and private sectors to identify systems, networks, and assets dependent on PNT services; identify appropriate PNT services; detect the disruption and manipulation of PNT services; and manage the associated risks to the systems, networks, and assets dependent on PNT services. Once made available, the PNT profiles shall be reviewed every 2 years and, as necessary, updated.

In other words, these profiles are designed to ensure that systems work in concert with each other and are authenticated, so that systems don’t have (obvious) security holes in their design.

That’s a good first step, but unlikely to move the needle in protecting this infrastructure. Booz Allen Hamilton Vice President Kevin Coggins, who runs the firm’s GPS resilience practice, explained to me last year that “In a system where you just blindly integrate these things and you don’t have an architecture that takes security into account … then you are just increasing your threat surface.” PNT profiles could cut down on that surface area for threats.

In a new statement regarding Trump’s executive order, Coggins said that:

As a next step, the federal government should consider cross-industry standards that call for system diversity, spectral diversity, and zero-trust architectures.

System diversity addresses the dependence on a single system, such as GPS – some PNT alternatives have a dependence on GPS, therefore will fail should GPS become disrupted.

Spectral diversity involves using additional frequencies to carry PNT information – such as in systems using eLORAN or multi-GNSS – rather than just having a single frequency that is easy to target.

Finally, zero-trust architectures would enable PNT receivers to validate navigation and timing signals prior to using them – rather than blindly trusting what they are told.

This area of security has also gotten more venture and startup attention. Expect more action from all parties as these emerging threats to the economy are fully taken into account.

 


0

Catching up on China’s tech influence operations in America

19:44 | 13 February

It’s been a dizzying few weeks following all the China news emanating from Washington DC these days. While a “phase one” trade deal with China has been signed and appears to be moving forward as of a month ago (we covered the origins of this trade war extensively on TechCrunch in 2018 and 2019), it has also become clear that the Trump administration and its various agencies are aggressively targeting China on a variety of fronts.

Here’s what’s been happening with startup funding, Huawei, university research labs, and cybersecurity breaches.

More challenges for startups fundraising Chinese dollars

As of a few weeks ago, the Trump administration completed the final rulemaking around its modernization of foreign investment rules. Those rules went into force today, and will help to define what startups can take money from which foreign nationals. Those rules will now be used by CFIUS – the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States — which has authority to rule over major venture transactions.

Martin Chorzempa of the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote an extensive overview of what’s changing here. The closest summary is that Silicon Valley startups that take significant money from overseas investors (significant here is generally about percentage ownership of a company rather than total dollars) will increasingly need to go through national security reviews in DC, which can vastly delay the closing of venture rounds.

While China is certainly in the crosshairs of these new rules, other investors have been hit by them as well. SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which had a very bad quarter this week, is also a target under these new rules, complicating that fund’s future investments in America.

Some firms though are preparing for the long haul. Sequoia hired a major CFIUS veteran to be its general counsel last year, and from what I hear, other venture firms are providing more advice to founders to actively avoid international investors that might trigger these sorts of national security reviews in the first place.

All this of course is in the context of a collapse in Chinese venture capital, which was already in dire straights even before the coronavirus situation the past few weeks put a massive brake on the Chinese economy. Chinese VC dollars flowing into the Valley hasn’t stopped, but it is a trickle from the sloshing free trade days of just a few years ago.

Huawei is coming to the West, despite the wishes of the Trump administration

The Trump administration has made it a high-priority to shut Huawei out of Western telecom systems. It first tried to do that by essentially shutting the company down along with China’s ZTE by banning the two companies from receiving U.S. export licenses to American technology critical to their products. That set of moves ultimately created blowback for the administration a few years ago and galvanized Xi Jinping and the Chinese government to create more indigenous devices.

The Trump administration is continuing to lose its war against Huawei though. In recent weeks, both the United Kingdom and Germany have indicated that they will accept Huawei equipment within their next-generation telecom networks, despite immense pressure from U.S. defense and intelligence officials pushing against that decision.

Part of the challenge for the Trump administration is that it isn’t even pushing forward with one voice. The Defense Department has actually supported Huawei’s position, arguing that fighting Huawei will ultimately undermine American chip market leaders like Intel, who need Huawei as a customer of their chips to continue funding their R&D efforts.

Meanwhile, Huawei late last week sued TechCrunch parent parent parent parent parent company Verizon (okay, maybe it’s only like three levels of corporate bureaucracy between us and them — I’ve honestly lost track in the reshuffles) over patent infringement. As the 5G race continually bubbles (it’s not really heating up despite attempts by telecoms to say otherwise), expect more of these patent fights.

Fighting Chinese influence in American university research labs

Most notably here, prosecutors at the Department of Justice charged Harvard University’s chairman of the department of chemistry Charles Lieber with failing to disclose payments he received from China totaling millions of dollars. Such disclosures are required since Lieber accepted federal research dollars through programs run by the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense.

The payments described in the department’s complaint included a monthly honorarium of $50,000, hundreds of thousands of dollars for annual living expenses, and millions of dollars to build out a research lab at Wuhan University of Technology as a “Strategic Scientist.” Two other scientists were named in the complaint as well.

That’s not all though. We learned this morning that the Department of Education has launched new investigations into Harvard and Yale to look at billion of dollars of overseas funding for those universities over the past few years, attempting to triangulate exactly who gave money to those institutions and why. The Wall Street Journal reported that the prime targets of funding come from China and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Aruna Viswanatha and Kate O’Keeffe of the Wall Street Journal compiled a number of university-level investigations, finding that dozens more scientists and other academics have failed to disclose overseas ties and funding, mostly from China.

These investigations have become a higher priority as the U.S. government increasingly feels that China has built an apparatus for stealing U.S. technology, particularly at the frontiers of science.

Justice indicts four Chinese nationals over Equifax breach

Finally, the other major story in the China influence operations beat is that the Department of Justice indicted four Chinese nationals over the 2017 Equifax breach that led to the loss of data for more than 150 million Americans.

According to the department’s complaint, four Chinese military hackers associated with China’s People’s Liberation Army broke into Equifax’s systems using an unpatched security vulnerability in Apache Struts.

The department’s indictment serves two purposes, even though the four alleged individuals in the indictment are highly unlikely to ever be prosecuted (China and the U.S. do not have an extradition treaty, nor is China likely to hand over the individuals to the U.S. justice system).

First, the indictments serve notice to China that the U.S. is watching its actions, and is able to determine with a high degree of precision who is breaking into these vulnerable technology systems and what they are taking. That’s important, as there are serious concerns in the defense community about identifying actors in cyberwar.

Second, the charges also help to connect the Equifax case to a similar breach at the government’s Office of Personnel Management, in which data on millions of government workers — including defense and intelligence personnel — was believed to be leaked to Chinese state-backed hackers.

Fighting Chinese influence has become a major project of DC officials, and therefore we can expect to see even more news on this front throughout the year, particularly with an election coming up in November.

 


0

FAA’s proposed remote ID rules should make compliance easy

02:13 | 13 February

Jon Hegranes Contributor
Jon is the CEO and co-founder of Kittyhawk, the leading provider of unmanned software and airspace systems.

When Josh, my co-founder, and I founded Kittyhawk, we saw the need for a new way to aviate with the demands and opportunities that unmanned systems would create. We set out to build the future of programmatic aviation, yet to enable this aviation renaissance we also knew that pragmatic innovation was key.

We didn’t rush into building cool but ineffective technologies. We ignored the lure of flashy solutions looking for problems. We started from day one working, learning and engaging directly with our customers, who are now some of the largest users of aviation. Unless our customers — operators of some of the largest manned and unmanned fleets in the U.S. — can leverage a piece of technology today, its usefulness is muted. Unless our platform can make the entire National Airspace System (NAS) safer for all stakeholders, the effectiveness is diluted.

Our DNA is built on skating where the puck is going, innovating at the edge so that we can move fast and deliver actual capabilities that are impactful from day one with the potential to accrue more value and evolve over time. There’s no better example of this than Remote ID.

More than two years ago, we released our real-time telemetry and tracking of aircraft. Not simple representations of a flight icon on a screen, but live data of aircraft that businesses, governments and public safety workers utilize every day. How we view the future of Remote ID is based on our experience of powering live-flight data and the feedback and learning that we’ve received over the last two years of enabling Remote ID across our user base. We’ve incorporated all of this data and practical experience — along with all of your feedback from our NPRM survey results — to inform our approach to Remote ID.

Below, we’ve attached the full public comments that we’ll submit to the FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on Remote ID, but first, let’s begin with a few of our core beliefs that are central to how we operate as a company and the voice that we strive to give all of our users who fly with Kittyhawk:

  • We believe that technology and software innovations should enable flight.
    • Any rules, technologies or regulations that curtail or disenfranchise flight are not well-thought out and fail to appreciate what technology can solve.
  • We believe that technology should be adopted based on its merits and its core utility.
    • Regulating technologies based on the potential for misuse is unprecedented in our nation and has no place in the adoption of unmanned systems.
  • We believe the future of aviation requires new ways of thinking to accomplish scale requirements and the need for mass adoption.
    • Rules or processes that start and end within a traditional mindset are flawed and will fail to result in meaningful impact.
  • We believe the future is now.
    • Safety and speed are not mutually exclusive and there are ways to create a safer NAS today that all aviation users can adopt immediately.

On November 21, 2019, the FAA was rolling out a new batch of LAANC-enabled airports, including Washington Dulles International Airport (KIAD), which represents a huge swath of airspace in the security-sensitive area of Washington, DC. To give you a sense of how excited our users were for this, we began receiving support requests shortly after the strike of midnight as people were anxious to comply and fly in this airspace. Their initial authorization requests, however, were receiving errors, as it wouldn’t be until later that day that the FAA would officially flip the switch for these new airports and we could begin accepting LAANC requests for KIAD.

Moral of the story: If you give operators an easy way to comply, they’ll move faster than regulators to do everything they can to get in the air compliantly.

High-level comments on the NPRM

The current draft of the NPRM is overly complicated, presenting solutions for problems that don’t exist and introducing complexity that won’t solve the problems that do. We can create a baseline for Remote ID today that opens airspace and impacts safety. We can create a system that demands compliance without creating privacy black holes. There is a better way and we can do it in 2020.

No. 1: Leave OEM certification out of the picture completely

There is absolutely no reason that OEMs should be involved in the NPRM on Remote ID. The role of an aircraft is to reliably fly based on the controls it receives, not the other way around.

We do not require DVRs to prevent you from recording the Super Bowl on the off chance that you might redistribute it. We do not require cars to prevent you from driving if you don’t have validated licenses and registrations. Just because a piece of technology has the potential for misuse, it’s unprecedented and un-American to restrict capabilities at the hardware level based simply on what-ifs.

Any hardware requirement for Remote ID introduces unnecessary security concerns and also adds unnecessary time to the path to adoption. The thought of giving this much power to hardware manufacturers to control access to the NAS should scare everyone, and I’m surprised the FAA failed to consider this. OEM control of airspace access via Remote ID greatly expands the target landscape for hackers and data breaches.

By removing OEM requirements and proposals around things like new serial number systems, all current unmanned systems and models alike will not be relegated to the scrap heap. All current recreational and commercial operations will not need to buy new drones or worry about costly retrofits with untold timelines for potential compliance.

Recommendation: Put all the responsibility on the Remote Pilot In Command (RPIC). Delete all OEM manufacturer requirements from the rule.

No. 2: A logical, tiered approach is the only way

A tiered approach to Remote ID makes a lot of sense, but the proposed tiers in the NPRM are misguided and disjointed.

Remote ID tiers should account for different types of flight by different types of operations in different types of airspace. The more timely and rich the Remote ID data, the more freedom to the sky should be enabled, but there should be more tiers with a lower bar to simply get in the air.

To this end, there should be a tier that includes a volume-based Remote ID (like we have in the ASTM and like we’ve already developed and showcased in the open-source InterUSS Remote ID platform). Think LAANC reservation, but for Remote ID, where a user can announce a time/place of flight. This would require no new hardware and no new technology. Every operation from model aircraft to routine Part 107 commercial flights could adopt and comply with this, effective immediately at zero cost.

Additionally, there should be more privileges for sharing real-time data and having a connected operation that can communicate and deviate if required. If Remote ID is going to unlock BVLOS, then the highest tier of Remote ID operations should do just that.

Recommendation: A tiered system that creates a low-friction, zero-cost ability to comply with Remote ID, extending to a more demanding requirement that results in BVLOS without a waiver.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Ceiling (Uncontrolled Airspace) Up to 200ft Up to 400ft Up to 400ft
Ceiling (Controlled Airspace) Up to 100ft* Up to 400ft* Up to 400ft*
Range VLOS VLOS BVLOS
Remote ID Requirements Volume-based reservation of a time/place.

Can be done remotely, up to 90 days in advance.

Volume-based reservation of a time/place.

Plus live sharing of telemetry via broadcast or network.

Volume-based reservation of a time/place.

Plus live sharing of telemetry via broadcast or network.

Plus network connection for aircraft or control stations to send and receive real-time messages.

Process Submitted and processed like LAANC to a USS. Submitted and processed like LAANC to a USS.

Broadcast or network to meet data requirements (see below).

Submitted and processed like LAANC to a USS.

Broadcast or network to meet data requirements (see below).

*Or lower if flying in controlled airspace and LAANC ceiling is lower than the corresponding tier.

No. 3: Tier-based Remote ID data

Remote ID data for public consumption should be separate from law enforcement use cases that may come in the future. Conflating public use cases with law enforcement use cases adds unnecessary complexity and sacrifices privacy.

The objective with Remote ID data is that it’s actionable for other aircraft and flights in the area — and for the public — to understand what is buzzing over them. Yet, the public needs only a few data points to share with law enforcement who can then put the pieces together. The “license plate” is all law enforcement really needs to take action.

Anything else is a bonus and should be optional based on the tier of the flight you want to execute.

In our experience with customers who want to early adopt into Remote ID and from what we’ve seen in our Remote ID survey, people will gladly share more information with law enforcement. People will also gladly share more information if it results in more access to the air. Just as it is the RPIC’s responsibility to comply with Remote ID, it should also be up to the RPIC to control her data.

Recommendation: Fewer data requirements with more optional fields at lower-tier operations, with more demanding data sharing and real-time communications at the highest tier to enable advanced operations.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Aircraft Identity serial number or anonymous session ID** serial number or anonymous session ID** serial number or anonymous session ID**
Aircraft Location N/A real-time LAT/LONG real-time LAT/LONG
Operator Identity optional FAA registration number or anonymous operator ID** FAA registration number or anonymous operator ID**
Operator Location N/A N/A real-time LAT/LONG
Operator Contact Information optional optional required
Flight Plan optional optional Submitted with takeoff, landing, route and emergency landing points.

Updated in real time.

**Generated and stored by a USS.

The FAA remarked in the NPRM at the successful private-public partnership that is LAANC. Let’s build on that infrastructure. We don’t need a new class of USS but simply to extend where and how we announce flights in the NAS. We already see that behavior today where users want to create polygons and announce flights in uncontrolled airspace.

At Kittyhawk, we’re going to continue building this concept of Remote ID into our platform for all of our users and we welcome other USSs and partners who want to join us and bring an actionable form of Remote ID to the NAS.

If you share our vision, please let us know and also let the FAA know with comments on the NPRM. There is a simpler and more effective path to Remote ID and we can do it in 2020.

 


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Reset Button is approaching student debt from a new angle

18:05 | 12 February

Student loan debt in the U.S. totals $1.5 trillion, and more than 44 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt.

According to research by Jason Iuliano, Villanova law professor, a million student loan debtors have filed for bankruptcy in the past five years. However, 99.9 percent of them did not include their student loan debt in their bankruptcy filing.

This research was the seed of what would become Reset Button, a new startup founded by Iuliano and Rob Hunter looking to help student loan debtors who have gone through bankruptcy find a new way to include those debts in their filing.

The only way you can include student loan debt in a bankruptcy filing is through litigation. Those cases have been historically less likely to settle out of court than other types of civil cases.

This means that the cost of including student loan debt in bankruptcy filings is, at the very least, around $10K. Now, if there was some guarantee that you could trade hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt for $10K-$15K, you’d obviously do it. But most folks who are already in the process of filing for bankruptcy don’t have a spare $10K minimum to spend on a litigator. And even if they did, there is no guarantee they’d win in court, resulting in even more debt and no relief.

This is what Reset Button is trying to change.

To be clear, Reset Button is targeted directly at folks who have already filed for bankruptcy but were told they couldn’t include their student loan debt in those filings, and so they didn’t.

Here’s how it works:

Reset Button has built a network of litigation lawyers who have experience in seeking student loan discharges. When a new user fires up Reset Button, the startup sends them through an evaluation process that collects financial information, etc. to assess whether or not one of those lawyers could litigate the discharge of that user’s student loan debt. That evaluation factors in a number of signals, including past legal cases that are comparable to the user’s situation.

That process also does a lot of the heavy lifting that makes hiring a litigator so expensive. These lawyers often have to do tons of research, tracking down statements and bills and other paperwork, before they can truly get started with the litigation.

Reset Button, as the connective tissue between debtor and lawyer, is able to automate a lot of that process for the lawyers, delivering a package of information on the case and connecting the user with the right lawyer for them.

Reset is also looking to bring the cost down for debtors. The company charges either 12 percent of the total debt discharged, or $10,000 (whichever is lowest). Reset also allows users to pay that sum over time, in $300 monthly installments. This is in stark contrast to people who hire their own lawyer, who would be responsible for the costs up front.

Reset Button is able to do this through a payment process called factoring. In short, Reset buys the receivables from the attorney’s fees, and charges the debtor with their own payment plan. Reset makes money from lawyers who pay for the lead generation, the technology services, and the marketing apparatus.

Factoring has come under fire from some who say that service providers sometimes raise prices to account for their fee, but Reset Button cofounders Rob Hunter and Iuliano say that their lawyers are actually charging less because of the workflow optimization provided by Reset Button.

The company also provides a Knowledge Base for debtors seeking financial guidance and resources, but the only revenue stream comes from the actual litigation of student loan debt in bankruptcy filings. Other services like refinancing, debt consolidation, or income-based payments are not provided by Reset Button, and the company has no official partnerships with those types of service providers.

However, Hunter said that it may be an avenue the company explores as it grows.

Perhaps most importantly, Reset Button offers a Fresh Start guarantee. In short, if the lawyer doesn’t manage to get your debt wiped, Reset will pay your legal bills.

There has been movement in the landscape of student loan discharges with bankruptcy.

Essentially, debtors must prove in court that they pass the test of “undue hardship,” which is a notably vague framework. Though there is a bit of variability among the various court circuits, the general idea is that a debtor must prove that they can’t currently pay back the loan, that there will not be a change down the line that will allow them to pay the loan in the future, and that they have made every effort to pay the loans in the past.

Historically, that’s been a difficult threshold to cross for the fraction of people who take steps to litigate their student loan debt. However, in small ways, courts seem to be opening up the interpretation of undue hardship.

“There’s a phrase that gets used in these cases that I think perpetuates this myth, and that is to call it a ‘certainty of hopelessness’,” said John Rao, attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. “And it’s almost like, as long as you’re still alive and breathing, something could improve for you. That’s just an impossible burden. It’s basically saying you could win the lottery or something. That’s just not the standard I think Congress had in mind.”

In 2015, in a case between Robert E. Murphy and the DOE/ECMC, Rao wrote to the courts arguing that they should reassess the test for undue hardship.

Rather than adopt one existing test over another, we urge this Court to provide a formulation of the undue hardship standard in simple terms, that restricts consideration of extraneous and inappropriate factors not consistent with the statutory language. A finding about whether a debtor’s hardship is likely to persist should be based on hard facts, not conjecture and unsubstantiated optimism.

More recently, a judge in the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of a debtor, wiping more than $200,000 in Kevin Rosenberg’s student debt. Of course, the lenders will be appealing the case.

However, Judge Morris, who presided over the case, wrote in her decision that “most people (bankruptcy professionals as well as lay individuals) believe it impossible to discharge student loans,” and that her “Court will not participate in perpetuating these myths.”

Reset Button has raised money from investors Craft Ventures, Slow Ventures, and Jeff Morris Jr. of Lambda School, among others. The company declined to share its total amount of investment.

“Society has been led to believe something for decades that is not true, which is probably the biggest initial challenge,” said founder and CEO Rob Hunter. “One of the unfortunate things is the reason that many consumers believe incorrect information is because a lawyer told them that. So, that is a bit of an uphill battle to swim against.”

 


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Facebook will pay Reuters to fact-check Deepfakes and more

14:30 | 12 February

Eye-witness photos and videos distributed by news wire Reuters already go through an exhaustive media verification process. Now the publisher will bring that expertise to the fight against misinformation on Facebook. Today it launches the new Reuters Fact Check business unit and blog, announcing that it will become one of the third-party partners tasked with debunking lies spread on the social network.

The four-person team from Reuters will review user generated video and photos as well as news headlines and other content in English and Spanish submitted by Facebook or flagged by the wider Reuters editorial team. They’ll then publish their findings on the new Reuters Fact Check blog, listing the core claim and why it’s false, partially false, or true. Facebook will then use those conclusions to label misinformation posts as false and downrank them in the News Feed algorithm to limit their spread.

“I can’t disclose any more about the terms of the financial agreement but I can confirm that they do pay for this service” Reuter’s Director of Global Partnerships Jessica April tells me of the deal with Facebook. Reuters joins the list of US fact-checking partners that include The Associated Press, PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, and four others. Facebook offers fact-checking in over 60 countries, though often with just one partner like Agence France-Presse’s local branches.

Reuters will have two fact-checking staffers in Washington D.C. and two in Mexico City. For reference, Reuters has over 25,000 employees. Reuters’ Global Head of UGC Newsgathering Hazel Baker said the fact-checking team could grow over time, as it plans to partner with Facebook through the 2020 election and beyond. The fact checkers will operate separately from, though with learnings gleaned from, the 12-person media verification team.

Reuters Fact Check will review content across the spectrum of misinformation formats. “We have a scale. On one end is content that is not manipulated but has lost context — old and recycled videos” Baker tells me, referencing lessons from the course she co-authored on spotting misinfo. Next up the scale are simplistically edited photos and videos that might be slowed down, sped up, spliced, or filtered. Then there’s staged media that’s been acted out or forged, like an audio clip recorded and maliciously attributed to a politician. Next is computer-generated imagery that can concoct content or ad fake things to a real video. “And finally there is synthetic or Deepfake video” which Baker said takes the most work to produce.

Baker acknowledged criticism of how slow Facebook is to direct hoaxes and misinformation to fact-checkers. While Facebook claims it can reduce the further spread of this content by 80% using downranking once content is deemed false, that doesn’t account for all the views it gets before its submitted and fact-checkers reach it amongst deep queues of suspicious posts for them to moderate. “One thing we have as an advantage of Reuters is an understanding of the importance of speed” Baker insists. That’s partly why the team will review content Reuters chooses, not just what Facebook has submitted.

Unfortunately, one thing they won’t be addressing is the widespread criticism over Facebook’s policy of refusing to fact-check political ads, even if they combine sensational and defamatory misinformation paired with calls to donate to a campaign. “We wouldn’t comment on that Facebook policy. That’s ultimately up to them” Baker tells TechCrunch. We’ve called on Facebook to ban political ads, fact-check them or at least those from presidential candidates, limit microtargeting, and/or only allow campaign ads using standardized formats without room for making potentially misleading claims.

The problem of misinformation looms large as we enter the primaries ahead of the 2020 election. Rather than just being financially motivated, anyone from individual trolls to shady campaigns to foreign intelligence operatives can find political incentives for mucking with democracy. Ideally, an organization with the experience and legitimacy of Reuters would have the funding to put more than four staffers to work protecting hundreds of millions of Facebook users.

Unfortunately, Facebook is straining its bottom line to make up for years of neglect around safety. Big expenditures on content moderators, security engineers, and policy improvements depressed its net income growth from 61% year-over-year at the end of 2018 to just 7% as of last quarter. That’s a quantified commitment to improvement. Yet clearly the troubles remain.

Facebook spent years crushing its earnings reports with rapid gains in user count, revenue, and profits. But it turns out that what looked like incredible software-powered margins were propped up by an absence on spending on safeguards. The sudden awakening to the price of protecting users has hit other tech companies like Airbnb, which the Wall Street Journal reports fells from from a $200 million in yearly profit in late 2018 to a loss of $332 million a year later as it combats theft, vandalism, and discrimination.

Paying Reuters to help is another step in the right direction for Facebook that’s now two years into its fact-checking foray. It’s just too bad it started so far behind.

 


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