posted 3 days ago on re/code
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos just flew to space. Now he wants more people to come along. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images Six questions to consider before launching yourself into space. For many, the rise of commercial space tourism is a vulgar display of wealth and power. Amid several global crises, including climate change and a pandemic, billionaires are spending their cash on launching themselves into space for fun. When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told reporters after his first space tourism trip on Tuesday that Amazon customers and employees had “paid” for his flight, that only intensified that criticism. But critics won’t deter Bezos and the other superrich. Space tourism is now a reality for the people who can afford it — and it will have repercussions for everyone on Earth. In fact, all signs indicate that the market for these trips is already big enough that they’ll keep happening. Jeff Bezos’s spaceflight company Blue Origin already has two more trips scheduled later this year, while Virgin Galactic, the space firm founded by billionaire Richard Branson, has at least 600 people who have already paid around $250,000 each for future tickets on its spaceplane. Now, as the commercial space tourism market (literally) gets off the ground, there are big questions facing future space travelers — and everyone else on the planet. Here are answers to the six biggest ones. 1. What will people actually be able to see and experience on a space trip? The biggest perk of traveling to space is the view. Just past the boundary between space and Earth, passengers can catch a stunning glimpse of our planet juxtaposed against the wide unknown of space. If a passenger is riding on a Virgin Galactic flight, they will get about 53 miles above sea level. Blue Origin riders will get a little bit higher, about 62 miles above sea level and past the Kármán line, the internationally recognized boundary between Earth and space. Overall, the experience on both flights is pretty similar. Welcome aboard #Unity22, Virgin Galactic's first fully-crewed test flight. Watch the historic moment through the eyes of our mission specialists. pic.twitter.com/DEwbBkgJYl— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 13, 2021 The view is meant to be awe-inducing, and the experience even has its own name: the Overview Effect. “​​When you see Earth from that high up, it changes your perspective on things and how interconnected we are and how we squander that here on Earth,” Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor at the US Air Force’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, told Recode. Another perk of these trips is that space tourists will feel a few minutes of microgravity, which is when gravity feels extremely weak. That will give them the chance to bounce around a spacecraft weightlessly before heading back to Earth. But Blue Origin’s and Virgin Galactic’s flights are relatively brief — about 10 and 90 minutes long, respectively. Other space tourism flights from SpaceX, the space company founded by Elon Musk, will have more to offer. This fall, billionaire Jared Isaacman, who founded the company Shift4 Payments, will pilot SpaceX’s first all-civilian flight, the Inspiration4, which will spend several days in orbit around Earth. In the coming years, the company has also planned private missions to the International Space Station, as well as a trip around the moon. These trips are meant to be enjoyed by space nerds who longed to be astronauts. But there’s another reason rich people want to go to space: demonstrating exclusivity and conspicuous consumption. More than a few people can afford a trip to Venice or the Maldives. But how many people are privileged enough to take a trip to space? “What a nice way of showing off these days than to post a picture on Instagram from space,” Sridhar Tayur, a Carnegie Mellon business professor, told Recode. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Jeff Bezos (@jeffbezos) 2. Does commercial space travel have any scientific goals, or is it really just a joyride? Right now, space tourism flights from Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have only reached suborbital space, which means that flights enter space but do not enter orbit around Earth. Scientifically, that’s not a new frontier. Though these current flights use new technology, suborbital flight with humans aboard was accomplished by NASA back in the early 1960s, Matthew Hersch, a historian of technology at Harvard, told Recode. Right now, it’s not clear these trips will offer scientists major new insights, but they might provide information that could be used in the future for space exploration. In fact, these trips are also being marketed as potential opportunities for scientific experiments. For instance, the most recent Virgin Galactic flight carried plants and tested how they responded to microgravity. These private companies primarily see opportunities in their commercial vehicles that can be reused at scale, which will allow the same rockets (or in Virgin Galactic’s case, spaceplanes) to go to space again and again, which lowers the overall cost of space tourism. Billionaires and their private space companies also see the development of these rockets as an opportunity to prepare for flights that will do even more, and go even farther, into space. Bezos, for instance, has argued that New Shepard’s suborbital flights will help prepare the company’s future missions, including its New Glenn rocket, which is meant for orbital space. “The fact of the matter is, the architecture and the technology we have chosen is complete overkill for a suborbital tourism mission,” Bezos said at Tuesday’s post-launch briefing. “We have chosen the vertical landing architecture. Why did we do that? Because it scales.” Beyond potential scientific advancements in the future, suborbital spaceflight might also create new ways to travel from one place on earth to another. SpaceX, for instance, has advertised that long-haul flights could be shortened to just 30 minutes by traveling through space. 3. Is it safe? Right now, it’s not entirely clear just how risky space tourism is. One way space tourism companies are trying to keep travelers safe is by requiring training so that the people who are taking a brief sojourn off Earth are as prepared as possible. On the flight, people can experience intense altitude and G-forces. “This is sustained G-forces on your body, upwards of what can be 6 G in one direction — which is six times your body weight for upwards of 20 or 30 seconds,” Glenn King, the chief operating officer of the Nastar Center — the aerospace physiology training center that prepared Richard Branson for his flights — told Recode. “That’s a long time when you have six people, or your weight, pressing down on you.” There’s also the chance that space tourists will be exposed to radiation, though that risk depends on how long you’re in space. “It’s a risk, especially more for the orbital flight than sub-orbital,” explains Whitman Cobb. “Going up in an airplane exposes you to a higher amount of radiation than you would get here on the ground.” She also warns that some tourists will likely barf on the ride. There doesn’t seem to be an age limit on who can travel, though. The most recent Blue Origin flight included both the youngest person to ever travel to space, an 18-year-old Dutch teenager, as well as the oldest: 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk. 4. How much will tickets cost? The leaders in commercial space tourism already claim they have a market to support the industry. While Bezos hinted on Tuesday the price would eventually come down — as eventually happened with the high prices of the nascent airline industry — for now, ticket prices are in the low hundreds of thousands, at least for Virgin Galactic. That price point would keep spaceflight out of reach for most of humanity, but there are enough interested rich people that space tourism seems to be economically feasible. “If you bring it down to $250,000, the wait times [to buy a ticket] will be very long,” Tayur, of Carnegie Mellon, told Recode. 5. What impact will commercial space travel have on the environment? The emissions of a flight to space can be worse than those of a typical airplane flight because just a few people hop aboard one of these flights, so the emissions per passenger are much higher. That pollution could become much worse if space tourism becomes more popular. Virgin Galactic alone eventually aims to launch 400 of these flights annually. “The carbon footprint of launching yourself into space in one of these rockets is incredibly high, close to about 100 times higher than if you took a long-haul flight,” Eloise Marais, a physical geography professor at the University College London, told Recode. “It’s incredibly problematic if we want to be environmentally conscious and consider our carbon footprint.” These flights’ effects on the environment will differ depending on factors like the fuel they use, the energy required to manufacture that fuel, and where they’re headed — and all these factors make it difficult to model their environmental impact. For instance, Jeff Bezos has argued that the liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel Blue Origin uses is less damaging to the environment than the other space competitors (technically, his flight didn’t release carbon dioxide), but experts told Recode it could still have significant environmental effects. There are also other risks we need to keep studying, including the release of soot that could hurt the stratosphere and the ozone. A study from 2010 found that the soot released by 1,000 space tourism flights could warm Antarctica by nearly 1 degree Celsius. “There are some risks that are unknown,” Paul Peeters, a tourism sustainability professor at the Breda University of Applied Sciences, told Recode. “We should do much more work to assess those risks and make sure that they do not occur or to alleviate them somehow — before you start this space tourism business.” Overall, he thinks the environmental costs are reason enough not to take such a trip. 6. Who is regulating commercial space travel? Right now, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has generally been given the job of overseeing the commercial space industry. But regulation of space is still relatively meager. One of the biggest areas of concern is licensing launches and making sure that space flights don’t end up hitting all the other flying vehicles humans launch into the sky, like planes and drones. Just this June, a SpaceX flight was held up after a helicopter flew into the zone of the launch. There’s a lot that still needs to be worked out, especially as there are more of these launches. On Thursday, the Senate hosted a hearing with leaders of the commercial space industry focused on overseeing the growing amount of civil space traffic. At the same time, the FAA is also overseeing a surging number of spaceports — essentially airports for spaceflight — and making sure there’s enough space for them to safely set up their launches. But there are other areas where the government could step in. “I think the cybersecurity aspect will also play a very vital role, so that people don’t get hacked,” Tayur said. The FAA told Recode that the agency has participated in developing national principles for space cybersecurity, but Congress hasn’t given it a specific role in looking at the cybersecurity of space. At some point, the government might also step in to regulate the environmental impact of these flights, too, but that’s not something the FAA currently has jurisdiction over. In the meantime, no government agency is currently vetting these companies when it comes to the safety of the human passengers aboard. An FAA official confirmed with Recode that while the agency is awarding licenses to companies to carry humans to space, they’re not actually confirming that these trips are safe. That’s jurisdiction Congress won’t give the agency until 2023. There doesn’t seem to be an abundance of travelers’ insurance policies for space. “Passengers basically sign that they’re waiving all their rights,” Whitman Cobb said. “You’re acknowledging that risk and doing it yourself right now.” So fair warning, if you decide to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a joyride to space: You’d likely have to accept all responsibility if you get hurt.

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posted 5 days ago on re/code
Sen. Amy Klobuchar has proposed a new law meant to combat health misinformation online. | Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images Sen. Amy Klobuchar has proposed changing the internet law Section 230 in order to combat health misinformation. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced new legislation today that aims to finally hold tech companies responsible for allowing misinformation about vaccines and other health issues to spread online. The bill, called the Health Misinformation Act and co-sponsored by Sen. Ray Luján (D-NM), would create an exception to the landmark internet law Section 230, which has always shielded tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter from being sued over almost any of the content people post on their platforms. Klobuchar’s bill would change that — but only when a social media platform’s algorithm promotes health misinformation related to an “existing public health emergency.” The legislation tasks the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to define health misinformation in these scenarios. “Features that are built into technology platforms have contributed to the spread of misinformation and disinformation,” reads a draft of the law seen by Recode, “with social media platforms incentivizing individuals to share content to get likes, comments, and other positive signals of engagement, which rewards engagement rather than accuracy.” The law wouldn’t apply in cases where a platform shows people posts using a “neutral mechanism,” like a social media feed that ranks posts chronologically, rather than algorithmically. This would be a big change for the major internet platforms. Right now, almost all of the major social media platforms rely on algorithms to determine what content they show users in their feeds. And these ranking algorithms are generally designed to show users the content that they engage with the most — posts that produce an emotional response — which can prioritize inaccurate information. The new bill comes at a time when social media companies are under fire for the Covid-19 misinformation spreading on their platforms despite their efforts to fact-check or take down some of the most egregiously harmful health information. Last week, as Covid-19 cases began surging among unvaccinated Americans, President Biden accused Facebook of “killing people” with vaccine misinformation (a statement he later partially walked back). At the same time, major social media companies continue to face criticism from some Republicans, who have opposed the Surgeon General’s recent health advisory focused on combating the threat of health misinformation. Conservatives, and especially Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), have also pushed back against the White House’s work flagging problematic health misinformation to social media platforms, calling the collaboration “scary stuff” and “censorship.” Even though tech giants are facing bipartisan criticism, Klobuchar’s plan to repeal Section 230 — even partially — will likely be challenging. Defining and identifying public health misinformation is often complicated, and having a government agency decide where to draw that boundary could run into challenges. At the same time, a court would also have to determine whether a platform’s algorithms were “neutral” and whether health misinformation was promoted — a question that doesn’t have a simple answer. Also, it may prove difficult for individual users to successfully sue Facebook, even if Section 230 is partially repealed, because it’s not illegal to post health misinformation (unlike, say, posting child pornography or defamatory statements). And free speech advocates have warned that repealing Section 230 — even in part — could limit free speech on the internet as we know it because it would pressure tech companies to more tightly control what users are allowed to post online. Regardless, the bill’s introduction reflects the political will on Capitol Hill among Democrats to force tech companies to more effectively combat misinformation on their platforms. “For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans,” said Sen. Klobuchar in a statement. “These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world, and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation.” Earlier this year, Sen. Klobuchar wrote a letter with Sen. Luján to the CEOs of Twitter and Facebook demanding they more aggressively take down misinformation on their platform, as Recode first reported. The letter cited research by a nonprofit, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which found that 12 anti-vaccine influencers — a “Disinformation Dozen” — were responsible for 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter. In responses to those letters, which were seen by Recode, both platforms largely defended their approach to these influencers, noting that they’d taken some actions on their accounts. Across both platforms, many of the accounts are still up. While data revealing the extent to which misinformation on Facebook has exacerbated vaccine hesitancy is limited, longtime online advocates for vaccines told Recode earlier this year that Facebook’s approach to vaccine content has made their job harder, and that content in Facebook groups, in particular, has made some people more opposed to vaccines. It’s also not the first time that Congress has tried to repeal parts of Section 230. Most recently, Congress introduced the EARN IT Act, which would take away Section 230 immunity from tech companies if they don’t adequately address child pornography on their platforms. That bill, which had bipartisan support when introduced, is still in Congress. Earlier this year, Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) also reintroduced their proposal, the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act, which would remove platforms’ Section 230 protections in cases where their algorithms amplified posts that involved international terrorism or interfered with civil rights. President Trump also attempted to repeal Section 230 through a legally unenforceable executive order, a few days after Twitter started fact-checking his misleading posts about voting by mail in the 2020 elections. Despite potential hurdles to their proposal, Sens. Klobuchar and Luján’s bill is a reminder that lawmakers concerned about misinformation are thinking more and more about the algorithms and ranking systems that drive engagement on this kind of content. “The social media giants know this: The algorithms encourage people to consume more and more misinformation,” Imran Ahmed, the CEO for the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told Recode in February. “Social media companies have not just encouraged growth of this market and tolerated it and nurtured it, they also have become the primary locus of misinformation.”

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posted 6 days ago on re/code
Location data from dating app Grindr appears to have outed a priest. | Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images Your location data is for sale, and it can be used against you. One of the worst-case scenarios for the barely regulated and secretive location data industry has become reality: Supposedly anonymous gay dating app data was apparently sold off and linked to a Catholic priest, who then resigned from his job. It shows how, despite app developers’ and data brokers’ frequent assurances that the data they collect is “anonymized” to protect people’s privacy, this data can and does fall into the wrong hands. It can then have dire consequences for users who may have had no idea their data was being collected and sold in the first place. It also shows the need for real regulations on the data broker industry that knows so much about so many but is beholden to so few laws. Here’s what happened: A Catholic news outlet called the Pillar somehow obtained “app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr.” It used this to track a phone belonging to or used by Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, who was an executive officer of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Burrill resigned his position shortly before the Pillar published its investigation. There’s still a lot we don’t know here, including the source of the Pillar’s data. The report, which presents Burrill’s apparent use of a gay dating app as “serial sexual misconduct” and inaccurately conflates homosexuality and dating app usage with pedophilia, simply says it was “commercially available app signal data” obtained from “data vendors.” We don’t know who those vendors are, nor the circumstances around that data’s purchase. Regardless, it was damning enough that Burrill left his position over it, and the Pillar says it’s possible that Burrill will face “canonical discipline” as well. What we do know is this: Dating apps are a rich source of personal and sensitive info about their users, and those users rarely know how that data is used, who can access it, and how those third parties use that data or who else they sell it to or share it with. That data is usually supposed to be “anonymized” or “de-identified” — this is how apps and data brokers claim to respect privacy — but it can be pretty easy to re-identify that data, as multiple investigations have shown, and as privacy experts and advocates have warned about for years. Considering that data can be used to ruin or even end your life — being gay is punishable by death in some countries — the consequences of mishandling it are as severe as it gets. “The harms caused by location tracking are real and can have a lasting impact far into the future,” Sean O’Brien, principal researcher at ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab, told Recode. “There is no meaningful oversight of smartphone surveillance, and the privacy abuse we saw in this case is enabled by a profitable and booming industry.” For its part, Grindr told the Washington Post that “there is absolutely no evidence supporting the allegations of improper data collection or usage related to the Grindr app as purported” and that it was “infeasible from a technical standpoint and incredibly unlikely.” Yet Grindr has gotten in trouble for privacy issues in the recent past. Internet advocacy group Mozilla labeled it as “privacy not included” in its review of dating apps. Grindr was fined nearly $12 million earlier this year by Norway’s Data Protection Authority for giving information about its users to several advertising companies, including their precise locations and user tracking codes. This came after a nonprofit called the Norwegian Consumer Council found in 2020 that Grindr sent user data to more than a dozen other companies, and after a 2018 BuzzFeed News investigation found that Grindr shared users’ HIV statuses, locations, email addresses, and phone identifiers with two other companies. While it’s not known how Burrill’s data was obtained from Grindr (assuming, again, that the Pillar’s report is truthful), app developers usually send location data to third parties through software development kits, or SDKs, which are tools that add functions to their apps or serve ads. SDKs then send user data from the app to the companies that make them. As an example, that’s how data broker X-Mode was able to get location data from millions of users across hundreds of apps, which it then gave to a defense contractor, which then gave it to the US military — which is far from the only government agency sourcing location data this way. Grindr did not respond to a request for comment from Recode asking for details on which companies or third parties it shared or sent user data to, or which SDKs it uses in its app. But it does say in its own privacy policy that it shared users’ age, gender, and location with advertisers until April 2020. The Pillar said its data on Burrill is from 2018 to 2020. Companies sell this data with ease because the data supply chain is opaque and the practice is barely regulated, especially in the United States. The $12 million fine from Norway was because Grindr violated the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The United States still doesn’t have an equivalent federal privacy law, so Grindr may not have done anything legally wrong here unless it lied to consumers about its privacy practices (at which point it may be subject to Federal Trade Commission penalties, such as they are). “Experts have warned for years that data collected by advertising companies from Americans’ phones could be used to track them and reveal the most personal details of their lives,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has pushed for privacy regulations on the location data industry, said in the statement to Recode. “Unfortunately, they were right. Data brokers and advertising companies have lied to the public, assuring them that the information they collected was anonymous. As this awful episode demonstrates, those claims were bogus — individuals can be tracked and identified.” In the absence of laws, companies could regulate themselves to better protect users’ privacy. But without anything compelling them to do so — and in an environment where any transgressions are difficult to identify and track — the user is simply left to hope for the best. App stores like Apple’s and Google Play do forbid selling location data in their terms of service, but we know some companies do it anyway. If Apple or Google finds out that apps are breaking those rules, they may ban them from their stores. But that doesn’t help the people whose data was already collected, shared, or sold. So, what can you do? If you use Grindr and want to minimize or restrict any data you may have given to the app, its privacy policy has some details on how to opt out of advertising services and delete your account. Then you have to trust that Grindr will follow through ... just like you had to trust that Grindr would protect your data in the first place. You can also advocate for privacy laws that forbid these practices from happening at all, by contacting your local and federal representatives. 2021 has seen the passage of two state-level privacy laws (Virginia and Colorado), but we’re still waiting for a federal law. Though Democrats have the presidency, House, and Senate (barely, and still not enough without filibuster reform), they have yet to advance any of the privacy bills proposed — and the year is more than half over. The simple fact is, the data you give to apps powers a massive economy worth hundreds of billions of dollars, which is hundreds of billions of reasons for it not to change — until and unless it’s forced to. “The FTC needs to step up and protect Americans from these outrageous privacy violations, and Congress needs to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation,” Wyden said.

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posted 6 days ago on re/code
Going back to the office can make people want to leave. | Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images The future of work, according to a remote work expert. After a year-and-a-half hiatus, many offices will open back up in September. Most companies are asking that employees return on a hybrid basis, meaning they come into the office at least some of the time. But what exactly that will look like is uncertain. What is certain is that more people will work from home than ever before, and this shift has the potential to disrupt everything from physical office space to the way people feel about work. And as US companies face a hiring crisis, companies that don’t offer remote work could find themselves at a significant disadvantage when it comes to recruiting new talent. Recode talked with Tsedal Neeley, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and the author of Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere, about the many issues that are coming up as the nature of work changes. The interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. Blue-collar versus white-collar? Rani Molla There were already a lot of perks to being a white-collar worker: You generally make more money, you work in an air-conditioned office, and now you get to work from home, which can make life so much easier. Do you think this will lead to growing animosity between blue-collar and white-collar workers? Tsedal Neeley Whether or not people have access to virtuality — or hybrid work, or dynamic work, depending on who you’re talking to — can easily become a diversity and inclusion question. First of all, we have to truly understand, in a given organization, whether or not anything that people are doing can be done remotely. We have a tendency to look at roles from a global standpoint and say, “Well, these jobs can’t be done remotely and these jobs can,” and quickly start assigning people to remote or non-remote. When we start scrutinizing the tasks that people do and the work that they do, one option that many companies have been pursuing is, “Can we pool and rotate?” So instead of all these people being attached physically to these job areas, can we do something where we look at tasks, what can be done virtually, what requires physical presence, and all of us share in that? The second thing is, if we can’t give people remote work opportunities because of what they do, we have to give people remote learning days. We have to give people some kind of remote experiences that they can do some self-development around. And this is where you can have parity. Blue-collar workers — I’m thinking in warehouses that are not outfitted with technology, or delivery folks — I don’t think that’s going to change much. But I also don’t think that it’s going to create as bad a division as we expect. Because hybrid, by definition, means you have some in-person, you have some remote, there’s going to be a mix. What working from home means for service workers Rani Molla So if people don’t go into the office as often — if I’m only going into the financial district one or two days a week — what does that mean for the people who work at the salad bars, the service counters, where I used to get my nails done? What are the repercussions for them when more people work remotely? This is the era for employees. The power is in employees’ hands today. Tsedal Neeley If you are there twice a week, another person for another company is there twice a week, another person is around once a week. I am firmly convinced that the patterns of movement may differ, but people will still be there. Even if companies reduce their commercial footprint, there will be more smaller organizations in the same entity, as opposed to one having a lot of floors in a building. Rani Molla But overall, if everyone went in five days before, now everyone’s working two days, there are fewer total days that people are actually going in. So there has to be some sort of reduction, right? Tsedal Neeley There will be some kind of reduction. But I don’t think we’re going to have these empty buildings as we imagine. I think there’s going to be a redistribution of who’s there and when, but the activities will be similar. Workers have the power right now, so companies will have to adapt to their demands Rani Molla Let’s talk about companies like Goldman Sachs, that have been really hardline on everyone coming into the office. Are they going to lose talent going forward? Are people going to be like, “I’m not going to work at this company or in this industry if they’re not going to let me have any flexibility in my work and life”? Tsedal Neeley We’re in an era where people have tasted a different way of working, a different way of connecting with the people they cohabitate with, a reduced level of stress from the reduction of commutes, saving more money. And because they’ve tasted this, they’re demanding it, they want it. Given that, will incumbents remain as powerful as they’ve always been in drawing and retaining top talent? With the kind of great resignation and turnover that we’re already starting to see, I would be surprised that if in the long run they won’t start seeing people leave. This is the era for employees. The power is in employees’ hands today because of the sheer scale and magnitude of the people who want to retain some kind of work-life flexibility in their professional arrangements. And if they can’t get it here, why not get it elsewhere? What a shame, if organizations are not leaning into the gift that virtuality and remote work gives, so that they can ... retain their women Rani Molla Why are some companies asking employees to be in the office all the time, if the pandemic has proved they don’t have to be? Tsedal Neeley It’s this belief and this bias that it is through in-person presence that we are able to connect, to communicate, to collaborate, to learn. It’s this bias that culture building and culture maintenance can only happen in in-person settings. But that is not empirically true. The emphasis of their work is very much process-focused, as opposed to outcome-focused. In order for remote-hybrid to work, people have to change their performance metric, and trust employees, and let go of control, and allow empowered autonomous employees to achieve organizational goals. Rani Molla That makes me think of Apple, which might have to backtrack a little bit on its work-from-home policy so people don’t quit. We’re in a very tight hiring crunch right now, so employers have to offer more perks like working from home to attract talent. But what happens when there isn’t a hiring crunch? Do we go back to normal? Tsedal Neeley We may. These things are cyclical, but the cost of turnover for companies is a year and a half of that individual’s salary. Think about that and the institutional memory that walks out the door. And we’re actually seeing early retirements, people who are saying, “We like to be home, we’ve been through this crazy crisis, I don’t want that stress anymore.” The losses of drastic turnover, it’s not just that you’re losing talent. You’re also messing with the culture of your organization. Think about a place where there’s an exodus. That’s not a motivating environment. Not only are there pragmatic losses when someone leaves, but there’s also cultural, social, emotional, psychological blows that companies will take. If I was a company right now, I would fight to keep my best people. Because my best people will ensure that I do well. Letting people work remotely could stop talent loss Rani Molla I’ve been writing about how working mothers really want to work from home, but they’ve also been having a really hard time doing so, reporting higher rates of stress and burnout. There’s an expectation that women have to both be ideal workers and ideal mothers. Obviously things are extra hard due to the pandemic, but it seems like it’s always been sort of an impossible situation for women. How does remote work fit into that? Tsedal Neeley It’s been bad, but it’s gotten worse. I have been alarmed. US labor statistics data showed that 3 million women have left the workforce [in 2020]. It made my head explode. And then another survey that looked at the same data was able to identify that almost 600,000 are mothers and caretakers. What a shame, if organizations are not leaning into the gift that virtuality and remote work gives, so that they can take advantage of flex time and flex jobs to retain their women. Or to also incorporate some kind of child care apparatus in order to support mothers. Some of the smart companies that I’ve talked to have done things like, from this time to this time every day we’re actually going to have online programs so that mothers with children between the ages of 5 and 10 can get some kind of respite. We can’t send you babysitters in the middle of a global pandemic, but these companies have found ways to support women and mothers — but these are in the minority. We talk about diversity, and gender and women, and then we see amazing women leaving. We have to work hard to bring them back and to reintegrate them into our organizations. Even the pre-pandemic ways of handling young families and professional demands were not great. If I can work from home, my pickup would be much easier than me breaking my neck to get to my child between 5 and whatever time. All of that goes away. Folks who have always been out of the mainstream in their organizations suddenly feel like they’re not only at the table, but that no one is calling them the wrong name Rani Molla Working from home can benefit certain groups: people with disabilities, people who were never that good at schmoozing in the office in the first place. Some Black people say they prefer working from home because they feel a better sense of belonging and experience fewer microaggressions. What does this mean for diversity inclusion? Is working from home the ticket to making a little more equity at work? Tsedal Neeley I think so. Folks who have always been out of the mainstream in their organizations suddenly feel like they’re not only at the table, but that no one is calling them the wrong name. They don’t have to take that psychological commute every day in order to code switch and fit in. Those with physical disabilities, or even neurodiversity challenges and concerns, are finding so much more peace. The lessons we can learn, however, is why is it that people have had these experiences, and what can we do to make changes in our organization so that they have the sense of belonging that they’ve experienced through this remote environment? What can we really expect five years from now? Rani Molla I’ve made some really bad predictions, so I want you to make a prediction instead. What is this going to look like in a year or two, or five, from now? Tsedal Neeley Guidelines and the policies will settle. Competencies around flexible workplaces will rise. Individual managers will level up to figure out how to lead a distributed workforce. People will be more agile with using digital tools, so things like tech exhaustion will go away. After people experience the hybrid format, they will settle into a rhythm that really works for them. And I think that we’ll see more remote than in-person days. I also predict that physical spaces — office spaces — will look very different. The remote year has totally influenced what people want: smart boards, movable furniture, outdoor space for work. So we’re going to see physical spaces of offices look very different than they are today.

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posted 7 days ago on re/code
Netflix’s Stranger Things | Netflix It thinks you’ll watch Stranger Things and then play Stranger Things, the game. Netflix started out shipping DVDs to customers through the mail. Then it started streaming other people’s movies and TV shows. Then it started making its own movies and TV shows. Next up: Video games. On Tuesday, Netflix formally told investors that is in the “early stages of further expanding into games,” saying that it’s an extension of experiments the company has done with a handful of choose-your-own-adventure style interactive programs, like 2018’s Bandersnatch. It’s a move that is both obvious and surprising, and we can discuss why in a minute. First, here’s how Netflix says it will work: The games will be bundled for free into Netflix’s main app, and for the time being will be primarily meant to be played on mobile devices, though they may eventually migrate to TVs. The company thinks some of its games will connect in some way to Netflix-owned franchises — you can definitely imagine a Stranger Things game, though probably not a Sex/Life one — but it may also license existing games and brands from other developers. Netflix is describing its move into games as an initial foray — “We think the time is right to learn more about how our members value games,” the company said in its quarterly earnings release — but also says it expects to be in gaming for the long haul. “This is a core part of our subscription offering,” Greg Peters, the company’s chief operating officer said during the company’s earnings call. The company thinks the main value of its games will be keeping existing subscribers more engaged in the Netflix app, and thus less likely to unsubscribe. The games could also, in theory, help drive new subscriptions. If you have paid attention to Netflix over the years, you have seen this move coming: Netflix executives, starting with CEO Reed Hastings, have mused for years about the fact that games are a major source of competition for Netflix users’ time and money. More concretely, The Information reported earlier this spring that the company was considering offering a bundle of games to subscribers, similar to the ones Apple offers via its Apple Arcade service. And last week Bloomberg reported that Netflix had hired an executive to run its upcoming games service. On the other hand: If you’ve paid attention to Netflix over the years, you may also view this a real departure from the company’s strategy — namely, its insistence on focusing on doing one thing well. For years, Netflix executives have been asked when they will get into live sports, or live news, or when they will add advertising to the service. The response is always the same: Netflix thinks a single-minded focus is the best way to win, and branching out beyond on-demand movies and TV shows would be a distraction. Now, the company says, it’s willing to try something new, while arguing that free games are reasonable extension of what it’s already doing. The company’s subscription model means “We don’t have to think about ads [in games]. We don’t have to think about in-game purchases or other monetization; we don’t have to think about per title purchases,” Peters said during the earnings call. Yes, Netflix allows, it doesn’t really know anything about making and hosting video games. But it says it didn’t know anything about making its own content when it agreed to make House of Cards in 2011, and that has worked out fine since. But that seems like a stretch. When Netflix tells the story about its first move into original content, it said that it thought its customers would like House of Cards because it knew its customers like other dark political soap operas. And while Netflix didn’t know anything about making shows when it started 10 years ago, it didn’t really have to know that: It simply paid David Fincher, Kevin Spacey, and production company Media Rights Capital to make the show — and then it streamed it to customers the same way it already streamed the other shows and movies it already had. But figuring out how to make games is a very different skill set than making TV shows and movies — which is why most big entertainment companies have failed whenever they’ve tried to get into games themselves (big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google have all swung and missed to varying degrees, as well.) So it’s entirely possible that Netflix’s move into games could flop, too. On the other hand: As even the most hidebound Hollywood executive knows by now, games are bigger than Hollywood, and they’re not going away. If it’s going to take a long time to figure out, it’s better to get started sooner than later.

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posted 7 days ago on re/code
Biden announced on Tuesday his intent to nominate Jonathan Kanter to head the DOJ’s antitrust division. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images Jonathan Kanter, who has been tapped to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division, has represented Google’s competitors. Big Tech has yet another reason to be worried about the threat of US government regulation. President Biden announced Tuesday he is nominating Jonathan Kanter, a known legal foe of Google and other major tech companies, to head the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. If confirmed to his post by the Senate, Kanter will have the power to take on cases to break up Big Tech companies or otherwise limit the size of their businesses. And as head of the DOJ antitrust division, Kanter would also decide how to proceed with the Trump administration’s landmark case against Google for engaging in allegedly anti-competitive business practices. Kanter has long argued that regulators have failed to enforce anti-monopoly antitrust laws against the tech sector and that this lack of regulation is hurting small businesses and American consumers. If he is confirmed, Kanter will join two other recent Biden appointees: Lina Khan, who heads the FTC; and Tim Wu, a top White House adviser on economic policy. Like Kanter, both built their careers making the case that the government needs to more aggressively regulate tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. These three powerful government figures are a worrisome trifecta for Google and other major tech firms. And their ascension to power is welcome news to advocates of breaking up Big Tech (so much so that some key political supporters have been touting “Wu & Khan & Kanter” mugs on social media). “With Lina Khan at the Federal Trade Commission, Tim Wu on the National Economic Council, and dozens of other strong leaders in departments and agencies throughout the Biden administration, Jonathan Kanter’s nomination to lead the Antitrust Division spells the end of the era of unaccountable monopoly power in America,” Barry Lynn, executive director of the policy group Open Markets Institute, wrote in a statement. Other anti-monopoly policy groups like the American Economic Liberties Project put out similarly positive statements. “President Biden has made an excellent choice to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division,” wrote Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, in a statement to Recode. “Jonathan Kanter has the experience, values, and intellectual foresight to ensure that antitrust enforcement under the Biden administration delivers for working people, small businesses, and communities. … He has crafted many of the most successful legal arguments driving the major antitrust investigations into Big Tech.” Kanter is an antitrust lawyer who has previously represented Google competitors like Yelp and Microsoft. The Senate will need to confirm Kanter to secure his position. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-M), who is sponsoring bills regulating tech, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) immediately released statements in support. “I look forward to working together to ensure that the Antitrust Division will fulfill its mission to vigorously enforce the antitrust laws, protect consumers, and promote competition throughout our economy, and I will continue to push to secure additional resources to support this critical effort,” wrote Sen. Klobuchar, in part, in a statement. Kanter’s experience representing Google’s competitors in the past may be something that Google tries to use against him, according to CNBC. The company could push for him to be recused from cases involving Google by arguing that these create a conflict of interest for him. That’s already started happening with Khan: Amazon and Facebook have both petitioned Khan to recuse herself from cases involving their companies because of her past criticism of their business practices. Khan has the advantage of broad bipartisan support in Congress, so it’s unclear if these petitions will succeed. Considering that Trump’s nominee to head the antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, had to recuse himself for the opposite reason — he advised Google earlier in his career — these new appointees’ histories of being critical of the tech sector says a lot about current attitudes in Washington toward the industry. Kanter’s appointment is also a reflection of Biden’s larger policy agenda of reining in Silicon Valley’s power. Earlier this month, Biden issued an executive order on competition, directing government agencies like the FTC to more closely scrutinize the tech sector. And recently, he has been increasingly critical of social media companies like Facebook for allowing the proliferation of misinformation about topics like Covid-19 on their platforms. It’s true that lawmakers and regulators have been urging more antitrust scrutiny of Big Tech for a while. But these efforts and appointments signal a shift: Rather than just talking about antitrust enforcement, the government may finally be ready to take some action.

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posted 8 days ago on re/code
Blue Origin is launching its first flight with humans, including Jeff Bezos, aboard. | Blue Origin Today, Blue Origin is launching its first flight with humans aboard, including billionaire Jeff Bezos. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is flying straight to the border of space. If all goes well, the billionaire — carried in a rocket built by his space flight company Blue Origin and accompanied by three fellow space tourists — will join a small but growing number of people who have traveled to space but aren’t professionally trained astronauts. Bezos’s planned trip is a big deal for Blue Origin — although its New Shepard rocket, named after the first American to visit space, Alan Shepard, has already had 15 successful test flights. Tuesday will be the first time the rocket carries humans to space. But more importantly, the journey signals that the era of civilian space tourism is officially here — or at least it is for the very wealthy. On July 11, Richard Branson, fellow billionaire and the founder of space tourism company Virgin Galactic, beat Bezos to the border of space when he flew there on a 90-minute trip with five other passengers on one of his company’s planes. Bezos’s and Branson’s space travel is a reminder that space is no longer only a place where national governments set out to explore and to learn more about the universe, but a terrain that private businesses are capitalizing on. Bezos has invested billions of his own money into Blue Origin, and his company recently auctioned a ticket to space on one of its rockets for $28 million. At a pre-launch mission briefing on Sunday, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut sales Ariane Cornell said two more flights were anticipated this year and that the company had “already built a robust pipeline of customers that are interested.” Analysts at the investment banking firm Canaccord Genuity have estimated that tourism to suborbital space could be an $8 billion industry by the end of the decade. If you want to watch the billionaire’s departure in real time, Blue Origin is hosting a live feed on its website. Tuesday’s flight path At 9 am ET on July 20, Blue Origin’s rocket is scheduled to take off from a remote desert in West Texas. At liftoff, the vehicle will launch toward space, carrying a six-seat capsule containing Bezos and the other passengers, pushed upward by a powerful, 60-foot-tall booster rocket. Blue Origin The July 20 Blue Origin flight will involve a large rocket that shoots a capsule, where the human passengers sit, into space. To reach space, New Shepard will move incredibly quickly: faster than Mach 3, or more than three times the speed of sound. A few minutes into the flight, the capsule will separate from the booster, which will then head back toward Earth and land vertically (ensuring it’s reusable for future flights). Meanwhile, Blue Origin’s capsule will head to the apex of its flight path and cross the Kármán line, the internationally recognized border between Earth’s atmosphere and space. That’s about 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, about 10 miles higher than Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic flight earlier this month. Like that flight, those traveling on Blue Origin’s New Shepard will also see a stunning view of Earth and have the chance to experience weightlessness. “They’re obviously going a little bit higher, a little bit faster, but they’re still only going to have just a few minutes of low microgravity experience before coming right back down,” Wendy Cobb, a professor at the US Air Force’s School of Air and Space Studies, told Recode. ”There’s also the notion of what’s called the ‘overview effect.’ That’s when astronauts do get up into space and are high enough to see the Earth for what it is, and it sort of changes how they view things on Earth.” After reaching the apex of the flight, the capsule will head back into Earth’s atmosphere, where it will eventually deploy parachutes to land. Overall, the whole trip is expected to clock in at just over 10 minutes long. Blue Origin’s passengers are making history Jeff Bezos, who founded Blue Origin back in 2000, is fulfilling his lifelong dream of traveling to space. “If you see the Earth from space, it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity,” explained the billionaire in a video announcing the flight in June. “It’s a big deal for me.” Bezos will be joined by his brother, firefighter and charity executive Mark Bezos. The flight will also carry both the oldest and youngest people to ever visit space: Wally Funk, an 82-year-old American aviator, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch teenager. Funk, the Federal Aviation Administration’s first female flight inspector, was one of the first women to train to become a NASA astronaut, but was ultimately denied the chance to travel to space because of her gender. Daemen is joining the flight as Blue Origin’s first paying customer; he’s taking the place of a still-unnamed bidder who paid $28 million for a seat (that person reportedly had a scheduling conflict and will travel on a later flight). While Blue Origin is making history in several ways, the flight is also a reminder that many people see space tourism, at least for the foreseeable future, as primarily funded by and for the very rich — and that it won’t do much to advance science and our understanding of space. “The experience of a few hyper-wealthy amateurs paying $28 million to vomit for 15 minutes probably won’t bring many average people closer to spaceflight or change their impression of it,” Matthew Hersch, a historian of technology at Harvard, told Recode in an email. “Compared to NASA’s space vehicles, they are clever amusement park rides with minimal utility, intended to support a tourism business that has never been part of NASA’s charter.” In fact, Bezos and Blue Origin are not the only private ventures looking to cash in on joy rides to space. Virgin Galactic, fresh off Branson’s flight, is already moving ahead with its plans to test and modify its planes for eventual commercial service. And this fall, SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, is sending its rocket to space too, with billionaire Jared Isaacman aboard. At the same time, NASA is also bringing these companies along for more ambitious ventures, including hiring SpaceX to transport its astronauts to the International Space Station. “Showing customers [and] showing the world that they have enough confidence in their system to get on board and experience it themselves ... is a big part of this,” Cobb, of the Air Force School, told Recode. “Part of it is also ego.”

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posted 8 days ago on re/code
Rite Aid had deployed facial recognition in at least 200 stores over eight years, before ditching the technology last year. | Noam Galai/Getty Images Customers are largely unaware that some of their favorite stores are using facial recognition tech. Some of the US’s most popular stores — including Macy’s and Albertsons — are using facial recognition on their customers, largely without their knowledge, according to the digital rights nonprofit Fight the Future. On July 14, Fight for the Future helped launch a nationwide campaign to document which of the country’s biggest retailers are deploying facial recognition, and which ones have committed to not use the technology. The campaign, which has the support of more than 35 human rights groups, aims to draw attention to retail stores using facial-scanning algorithms to boost their profits, intensify security systems, and even track their employees. The campaign comes as a clear reminder that the reach of facial recognition goes far beyond law enforcement and into the private, commercial storefronts we regularly visit. Experts warn that facial recognition in these spaces is particularly concerning because the technology is largely unregulated and undisclosed, meaning both customers and employees may be unaware this software is surveilling and collecting data about them. “A lot of people would probably be surprised to know how many retailers that they shop in on a regular basis are using this technology in a variety of ways to protect their profits and maximize their profits as well,” Caitlin Seeley George, a campaign director at Fight for the Future, told Recode. While you may not have heard of it before, stores using facial recognition isn’t a new practice. Last year, Reuters reported that the drug chain Rite Aid had deployed facial recognition in at least 200 stores over nearly a decade (before the company suddenly committed to ditching the software). In fact, facial recognition is just one of several technologies store chains are deploying to enhance their security systems, or to otherwise surveil customers. Some retailers, for instance, have used apps and in-store wifi to track users while they move around physical stores and later target them with online ads. A handful of popular stores, including the grocery chain Albertsons and Macy’s, are already using facial recognition, according to Fight for the Future’s database. How exactly these retailers are using facial recognition can be unclear, since companies typically aren’t upfront about it. At the same time, a growing number of technology startups and security firms are looking for opportunities to sell this software to stores. Some of these sellers are already well-known, like Clearview AI, the controversial startup that scraped billions of people’s images from social media. But there are plenty of other facial recognition providers that have attracted less attention, such as firms like AnyVision, which announced it had raised $235 million just last week. Stores are embracing facial recognition tech because, they claim, it can help them prevent theft. But experts warn this technology raises alarms. Customers rarely know that this technology is in use, leaving them without the opportunity to say no or remove themselves from a store’s facial recognition-based watch list. At the same time, facial recognition algorithms can be inaccurate, and come with built-in racial and gender biases. In 2019, Apple was sued by a New York undergraduate student who alleges that the company uses facial recognition tech for security purposes and that it inaccurately linked him to several thefts at Apple stores that he didn’t commit. “We’re really concerned about how employees at retailers using facial recognition are impacted in a large part because they don’t really have an option to opt out if it comes to a point where people can either have their job and be under surveillance or not have a job,” George, of Fight for the Future, told Recode. Customers living in areas where there are few options for stores can also end up being coerced into accepting the technology, she added. One of the main challenges is that facial recognition is mostly unregulated, and many current efforts to rein in the technology primarily focus on its use by government and law enforcement. “The laws are so different it would be probably impossible to write a clean, clearly understood bill regulating both consumer and government,” Brian Hofer, who helped put together the facial recognition ban in San Francisco, told Recode last year. But there have been attempts to regulate this tech, even when used privately. In 2019, Lowe’s and Home Depot were sued for using facial recognition in violation of Illinois’s biometric privacy law, one of the strongest laws in the country. Just this month, a New York City law finally went into effect that requires stores and businesses to tell customers when they collect their biometric data. And this week, the commission that oversees the Port of Seattle voted to ban biometric tech from its facilities. While members of Congress have proposed several ideas for giving customers more protection against private companies’ use of facial recognition, there’s yet to be significant regulation at the federal level. “In the vast majority of cities and towns, there are no rules on when private companies can use surveillance tech, and when they can share the information with police, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], or even private ads,” warns Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. In the meantime, Fight for the Future is moving forward with its plan to call out companies already using the technology. The group is also collecting information about competing stores that don’t use facial recognition, so people can have the option to avoid this surveillance if they want. Correction, July 19, 2021: An earlier version of this story said Ace Hardware uses facial recognition. Ace Hardware said in a statement that the specific store location Fight for the Future cited in its database does not use the technology. Ace Hardware did not clarify whether any other store locations use this tech. Fight for the Future has since updated its database.

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posted 8 days ago on re/code
An investigation into spyware found that Apple’s iMessage app was used to hack into iPhones. | Neil Godwin/Future via Getty Images The Pegasus spyware leak shows that iPhones are vulnerable to hacks, too. If you were paying attention to the news over the weekend, you might have heard something about “Pegasus.” In this case, Pegasus is not a mythical flying horse, but powerful phone-hacking spyware sold by an Israeli company that’s allegedly been used to snoop on journalists, politicians, activists, and even business executives around the world. But if you don’t fall into those categories or are otherwise unlikely to be the target of a sophisticated hacking operation, how any of this directly applies to you may not be so obvious. Does the average person really have to worry about the government of Azerbaijan breaking into their phone and listening to their conversations or surveilling them through their phone cameras? Probably not. But the reports do suggest that people who have wholeheartedly bought into Apple’s marketing about how secure its devices are — and how hard Apple fights to ensure that security — might want to think again: iPhones can be hacked. That might be surprising to many, as Apple has long cultivated its reputation as the private and secure alternative to rivals Microsoft and Google, whose Android operating system powers most phones in the world that aren’t iPhones. Apple took a well-publicized stand against the United States federal government twice by refusing to help the FBI unlock phones that belonged to suspected terrorists. But the fact that the FBI was able to get into those phones without Apple’s help should be your first clue that iPhones and Macs are not impenetrable fortresses. Now, multiple reports based on a leak of 50,000 phone numbers belonging to people said to be potential targets — including journalists, dissidents, human rights advocates, and heads of state — say that thousands of iPhones may have been hacked by Pegasus. This sophisticated spyware, which was developed by the Israeli intelligence firm NSO Group, can harvest a target’s phone’s data, access their location, and record them through their microphone and camera without their knowledge — and without a target even clicking a link. NSO maintains that it only sells its technology to government agencies to investigate and combat terrorism and crime (“for the sole purpose of saving lives”) and that the allegations made in the report are false — though its co-founder and CEO Shalev Hulio also told the Washington Post that the reports were “concerning” and that the company was “investigating every allegation.” But news outlets that investigated devices owned by phone numbers on the list found that some people were targeted because they were investigating or speaking out against governments or otherwise powerful people — not because they were criminals or terrorists. A detailed report from Amnesty International, which, along with nonprofit organization Forbidden Stories, spearheaded the investigation, shows how Pegasus used Apple’s own apps, including Apple Photos, Apple Music, and iMessage, as attack vectors. And some of the exploits were already known to security experts and researchers. For instance, the fact that a hacker can send malware over iMessage that infects a target phone even if the recipient never clicks on anything — known as a “zero-click” exploit — has been reported on for several years. Apple insiders told the Washington Post they believed that the company wasn’t doing enough to protect against known vulnerabilities or vet new products for exploits before they were released to the public. Apple told Recode that iPhone is “the safest, most secure consumer mobile device on the market” and that it takes multiple steps to detect and fix new threats. “Apple unequivocally condemns cyberattacks against journalists, human rights activists, and others seeking to make the world a better place,” Apple said in a statement. “Attacks like the ones described are highly sophisticated, cost millions of dollars to develop, often have a short shelf life, and are used to target specific individuals. While that means they are not a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users, we continue to work tirelessly to defend all our customers.” Whether you’re a likely target of spyware hacking or not, there are some measures you can take to make your devices safer, like frequently updating your operating system and apps. The iMessage zero-click exploit, for example, appears to have been addressed by iOS 14 update’s “Blastdoor,” which isolates incoming iMessages from the rest of the phone (including the iMessage app itself) and tests them for malicious code. But the key word here is “safer.” That’s not the same thing as “safe,” and it’s not a guarantee of anything. The Pegasus investigation shows that iPhones — and any other device, Apple or otherwise — are not 100 percent secure and will always be playing catch-up to fix the vulnerabilities that hackers find and exploit. Even the most secure devices and encrypted messaging apps can potentially be hacked. It’s exceedingly unlikely that they’ll be used against the device owned by you, the average reader. But you shouldn’t assume it’s impossible for anyone else to get in.

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posted 8 days ago on re/code
CNN’s Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper. | Getty Images for CNN The newest streaming service doesn’t make sense, but it’s what we’re doing now anyway. What is CNN+, the new streaming service the cable news channel announced today? Let’s do the short answer first: CNN+ is not CNN. Think of it, for now, as CNN Jr. Slightly longer: If you want to watch Actual CNN, CNN+ is not for you. Actual CNN is still limited to people who pay for the news channel as part of a pay-TV bundle. So CNN+, which will launch next year for a yet-to-be-disclosed price, will be ... something else. That is, stuff that’s like CNN, but not on CNN (disclosure: Vox Media is producing a series with CNN Originals and I’m working on that project). Here’s the full story: CNN+, like lots of other attempts from big TV programmers to move into the streaming world, is an in-betweener: It wants to leverage the old TV channel’s brand to create a new revenue stream, without cannibalizing the thing that generates enormous revenue and profits. You can see why CNN and its owner — for now, that’s AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia but plans to dump it into a new company, which will combine WarnerMedia with Discovery Networks — want this to happen. Whether consumers will want it is another question. But since lots of other Big TV networks have tried similar “have your streaming and eat your TV, too” gambits, we at least know some of the options CNN+ is looking at: Give your most hardcore fans more of what they already get. This is the Fox Nation strategy: If you like the cynical misinformation Tucker Carlson’s peddles on his nightly Fox News show, you might also want to watch Tucker Carlson Today, his streaming-only show. I like Discovery’s Guy Fieri, but not enough to subscribe to Discovery+ so I can also watch Guy: Hawaiian Style, which Discovery tells me will feature Fieri and family “rolling through the Hawaiian Islands for a deep dive into the tradition, the adventure and all types of great food.” You, on the other hand, may want to pay up. There’s a lid for every pot. Give hardcore fans something they want but aren’t getting already. You can’t watch college lacrosse on ESPN because college lacrosse doesn’t attract enough viewers to take up precious airtime on a linear TV channel. But on ESPN+, which has unlimited shelf space — you can watch college lacrosse and at the same time I can watch German soccer — it makes perfect sense, as analyst Ben Thompson laid out recently: Very good @benthompson on ESPN/ESPN+ strat: One goes for biggest audience bc ads + cable fees, other goes for lots of niches bc direct subs. https://t.co/Shjhgd86sl pic.twitter.com/uLrM3BrjFV— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) July 13, 2021 Other versions of this include Paramount+ running exclusive episodes of The Good Fight, a spinoff of the CBS series The Good Wife. It’s not for everyone, but if you liked the first show on regular TV, you might pay up to watch the streaming sequel. Give everyone almost everything, and spend a ton of money doing it. This is the Disney+ proposition: The company is streaming (just about) its entire film catalog, plus a roster of big-budget, high-profile streaming-only shows (The Mandalorian, Loki, etc). It’s an expensive bet — because it requires paying a lot of money for new stuff, as well as forgoing money you can get selling your stuff to other outlets — but so far it appears to have worked for Disney. The problem for CNN/WarnerMedia executives is that CNN+ looks like it’s none of the above. And it may be that CNN’s product simply doesn’t work as a standalone streaming product: Maybe there are passionate Jake Tapper or Anderson Cooper fans willing to pay extra to see more of them, but it’s hard to believe there are a lot of them. Meanwhile, it is a very good bet that the Jake Tappers and Anderson Coopers of the world will continue to put most of their energy and focus on TV because that’s where the audience, fame, and money is. And while CNN does excellent work (again, see disclosure), it famously does best when there is breaking news and you need to know what’s happening now, in real time. The rest of the time, it is straining mightily to find something you’ll want to watch instead of news, while you are flipping through channels. And in an on-demand streaming world, if you’re looking for something to watch besides news, you have unlimited options. Even more worryingly, it may turn out that in an on-demand streaming world, when you do want to watch real-time news, you may have many other options. The best-case scenario for CNN+ is one that officials are already hinting at: that it’s something you don’t pay for directly, but as part of another bundle. Record scratch here: Wasn’t the whole point of streaming TV to break up the cable TV bundle and replace it with a menu of networks and shows we could pick and choose from whenever we want? Well, yes. Except the people who make and sell entertainment like the bundle — and they think you will like it, too. That’s why Disney lets you buy Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ together at a discount, and that’s why HBO Max exists at all — because WarnerMedia thinks you’re more likely to buy HBO if it comes with a lot of other stuff as well as HBO. (You can credibly argue that Netflix, meanwhile, is its own bundle.) In this case, there’s a good chance CNN+ gets folded into HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s “HBO + some other stuff” service, which is already likely to envelop Discovery+ (another tweener service) if and when the WarnerMedia/Discovery merger goes through. So Warner Bros. Discovery could use CNN+ as justification to raise prices for HBO Max — or it could simply get it for free so you feel you’re getting additional value for streaming dollars. You can see other examples of this in the wild already: You can buy a standalone subscription to the New York Times Cooking app for $5 a month — or you can buy an “all access” subscription that gives you the paper’s cooking app, games app, and all of the paper itself for $17 a month. And if that’s CNN+’s future, you don’t need to worry about whether or not you’re paying for it — you’ll simply get it alongside a bunch of other stuff, whether you want it or not. Just like good old-fashioned TV.

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posted 8 days ago on re/code
A sign outside of one of Apple’s offices in Silicon Valley. | Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images A new petition says it’s “too early” to force employees back to the office and asks management for “greater flexibility.” Tech companies like Apple were some of the first to allow their corporate employees to work from home at the start of the pandemic. Now, tensions are rising about when and if these employees will return to the office. In a new letter, some Apple employees are asking that the company allow staffers to work from home full time, with some restrictions. Apple has only agreed to let employees work from home two days a week, with limited exceptions. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. This is the second petition letter in two months from Apple employees writing about more flexible working conditions, and it’s a sign of continued rank-and-file dissent at the company. That's a surprising departure from Apple’s traditionally hierarchical work culture. The petition outlines two different “pilot arrangements” that would allow employees to work from home full time for at least one year, with no promise of being extended. These arrangements would give employees the option to work remotely from their home five days a week — including in a location different from the area they were hired to work in — with the approval of their manager or department head, and in some cases, a cost-of-living compensation adjustment. The letter was posted on Monday morning to an internal Apple employee Slack channel for discussing remote work; the channel has more than 6,000 members and is open to all Apple corporate employees. Other Silicon Valley tech giants like Google and Facebook have offered more flexibility to their employees, allowing workers in good standing to request to work from home full time, although the details of these plans are still being worked out. Amazon even backtracked on plans to require corporate staff to return to the office full time after an employee backlash. But Apple (which, unlike Google and Facebook, is primarily a hardware company that manufactures physical goods) has insisted that it needs most employees back in the office to run its notoriously secretive business. Management’s resistance to changing its work-from-home policy has caused open frustration among Apple’s traditionally heads-down workforce, and reflects larger tensions among white-collar workers in the US as their employers begin to call them to return to the office in person. “We continue to be concerned that this one-size-fits-all solution is causing many of our colleagues to question their future at Apple,” the letter states, which goes on to say, “With COVID-19 numbers rising again around the world, vaccines proving less effective against the Delta variant, and the long-term effects of infection not well understood, it is too early to force those with concerns to come back to the office.” The letter cites an internal employee survey which found that 68 percent of respondents — totaling over 1,100 employees — strongly agreed that Apple’s “lack of location flexibility” would “likely cause them to leave Apple.” In June, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a memo saying that employees needed to return to the office at least three days a week beginning in September. Many Apple employees — some of whom had already permanently moved away from the Bay Area during the pandemic or had medical concerns about returning to the office — pushed back on that decision, with more than 1,700 Apple employees signing a protest letter, as The Verge first reported. Management pledged to listen to employees’ concerns. But just two weeks later, company executives sent out a video announcing it wasn’t changing its original position, with Apple VP Deirdre O’Brien saying “we believe that in-person collaboration is essential to our culture and our future.” In the past several weeks, Apple’s HR team (which it calls its People team) has been listening to employees’ personal stories about why they wanted to work from home. Sources told Recode that Apple employees with disabilities, single parents, or those who have already permanently moved away from the office were among those most negatively affected by the mandate to return to the office. “However, it has been disappointing to see these personal stories not acknowledged individually or by any change in policy,” the letter states. Ultimately, the letter argues that the risks of the proposed policy changes to Apple’s business are “minimal, while their potential benefits are enormous”. Apple employees airing their grievances about how the company is run — even internally — is a relatively new phenomenon. Unlike Google or even Facebook, Apple does not have much of a history of employee debate on controversial matters. The floodgates seemed to have opened with a backlash to the hiring of Antonio Garcia Martinez, an engineering manager who has previously written what many viewed as sexist comments about women. Martinez was fired from the company shortly after employees published a petition calling for an investigation into his hiring. The big question moving forward is how Apple’s management will respond to this ongoing wave of activism in its workforce and whether it will listen to its employees’ concerns, or if it will crack down on the dissent as other companies like Google have. The full text of the letter is below (emphasis not ours): Dear Tim, Deirdre, and Team, Thank you for all the work you and the team do to keep Apple’s culture so rich, vibrant, and inclusive! We especially appreciate the People’s team’s efforts over the last few weeks to understand our personal situations. However, it has been disappointing to see these personal stories not acknowledged individually or by any change in policy. We continue to be concerned that this one-size-fits-all solution is causing many of our colleagues to question their future at Apple. Around 68% of the respondents to our informal survey somewhat or strongly agreed that the lack of location flexibility would likely cause them to leave Apple; that’s over 1100 members of our Apple family, and we care about every single one of them. With COVID-19 numbers rising again around the world, vaccines proving less effective against the Delta variant, and the long-term effects of infection not well understood, it is too early to force those with concerns to come back to the office. Furthermore, allowing some greater flexibility than the current 3/2 schedule would enable us to truly validate whether some people working remotely, not just everyone occasionally working from home, is compatible with Apple’s culture of collaboration. We propose the following adaptations to the Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) and Temporary Remote Work Arrangement (TRWA) programs to make them part of the Hybrid Working Pilot. These new arrangements would be limited to one year with no promise to be extended. Local WFH Temporary Pilot Agreement: This proposal is intended to accommodate employees who work better from home—or who do not feel comfortable in the office while the pandemic is still not under control—by allowing them to continue working from home unless the particular needs of their role require them to be in the office. Required: Approval of direct manager. Default work location is home, but the employee will still have an assigned desk in the office. WFH location must be within commutable distance to the employer’s assigned office. A fixed WFH/in-office schedule may be part of this arrangement at the manager’s discretion. Remote WFH Temporary Pilot Agreement This proposal is intended to accommodate employees whose living situations are not compatible, or have become incompatible, with commuting to an Apple office. Required: Approval of department head. Default work location is current permanent home address; employee will not have an assigned desk in the office. Employee’s compensation may be adjusted based on location, the same as for permanent remote employees. We believe that these two proposals are essential to making the Hybrid Working Pilot successful. Together, they ensure the Pilot encompasses the full range of office and non-office working arrangements, allow us to retain many of our colleagues, who have expressed the desire for location-flexibility in their current roles, and enable individuals and teams to respond more quickly to the changing regional conditions of COVID-19 without relying on previous company-wide guidance. We hope you agree that the risks of these adapted policies are minimal while their potential benefits are enormous and look forward to hearing your thoughts. Sincerely, The Undersigned

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posted 10 days ago on re/code
Getty Images Republicans are less likely to say remote workers labor just as hard as or harder than non-remote workers. Most Americans approve of letting people work from home. But like many things in the US, that perception depends on one’s politics. While Republicans are overall positive about remote work, they were less likely to approve of it compared with Democrats (81 percent versus 89 percent), according to a new poll by Vox and Data for Progress. Additionally, Republicans were less likely to say remote workers labored just as hard or harder than non-remote workers (50 percent versus 75 percent). Republicans were also less likely than Democrats to say remote workers were equally or more productive than non-remote workers (57 percent versus 71 percent). The survey of more than 1,000 people was conducted online earlier this month and is weighted to be representative of the US adult population. Despite the difference between Republicans and Democrats, the high approval rate overall is a good sign for those who would like to continue working from home after the pandemic. Positive perceptions about remote work could help ensure its continuance — especially since workers and their employers have some disagreements about the future of remote work. More than half of Americans worked from home earlier in the pandemic. And it went surprisingly well, with workers, their managers, and objective studies reporting that employees maintained or increased their levels of productivity. So it makes sense that over the course of the pandemic, employees’ desire to continue working from home increased, and so did employers’ willingness to let them. But there’s still a gap between what employees want and what employers say they’re going to do, according to data from a study authored in part by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom. Employees would like to work from home about half the time, while employers plan to let them do so about one day a week. As the more acute effects of the pandemic are subsiding and the number of people who work remotely is declining, numerous surveys of employers — as well as a giant increase in the number of remote job listings — suggest that many Americans will continue to work from home at least some of the time even when the pandemic ends. What’s less clear is how often that will be. As for the difference between Republicans and Democrats, it’s possible the survey responses reflect the political makeup of remote workers. The survey sample size wasn’t large enough to accurately look at the political parties of those who worked remotely. However, the responses were equally positive among people who did and didn’t work remotely. That’s consistent with data from Boston Consulting Group that said the majority of people, regardless of whether it was feasible in their industry, wanted to work remotely. But we also know that states whose voters lean Republican had a lower rate of working from home during the pandemic (30 percent) than Democratic states (35 percent), according to the Bloom study, which measured the overall work from home rate at 33 percent from May 2020 to March 2021. The desire to work from home after Covid-19 was only slightly higher for Democrats (46 percent versus 45 for Republicans). “Trump aligned the Republican Party to being more working-class and less educated, and these jobs have a far lower ability to work from home,” Bloom told Recode in an email. Overall, though, working from home is a valuable perk, with the average employee saying it’s worth about 7 percent of their salary, according to Bloom’s study. It’s not worth much more than that. Our survey, which asked whether people would prefer the ability to work from home or to receive a 10 percent pay raise, found that two-thirds of people would go for the raise. In addition to the 25 percent of employed people whose jobs are currently fully remote, another 30 percent said some of their work could be done remotely. It’s likely more jobs will have remote possibilities as employers use it as a perk to attract workers in what’s a very tight job market. How commonplace remote work ends up being remains to be seen, but proponents of the practice have public opinion on their side.

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posted 12 days ago on re/code
Dr. Vivek Murthy, United States Surgeon General, is taking a stand against health misinformation. | Samuel Corum/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images Dr. Vivek Murthy considers social media misinformation to be a deadly public health threat. United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy says that misinformation — much of it on tech platforms — is a public health threat that has cost people’s lives and prolonged the Covid pandemic. As Murthy said in a Thursday press conference, health advisories are usually about things people physically consume: food, drinks, cigarettes. But the first advisory of his tenure in the Biden administration (he was also the surgeon general under President Obama) is about what we consume with our eyes and ears: misinformation. The advisory comes with a set of guidelines on how to “build a healthy information environment,” with recommendations for everyone from social media users up to the platforms themselves (also: health workers, researchers, and the media). Murthy also went on some of those very platforms to spread the message, including Twitter and Facebook. “Today, we live in a world where misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health,” Murthy said in a press conference, adding that “modern technology companies” have allowed misinformation and disinformation to spread across their platforms “with little accountability.” The advisory isn’t a set of orders that must be followed by these companies, but the increased scrutiny and attention does put pressure on them to more aggressively combat the falsehoods spreading on their platforms. This health advisory comes as Covid vaccination rates in the United States are dropping, while cases are picking back up, and the fast-spreading delta variant takes hold. The vast majority of Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths have been for people who aren’t vaccinated, despite the widespread availability of vaccines in the US. And with some people choosing not to get vaccinated because they believe misinformation about the vaccines, the Biden administration has reportedly decided it’s time to fight back. Coronavirus misinformation isn’t just contained to social media. But social media gives it a stage and reach that offline platforms don’t have, and this has been a concern for years. Mis- or disinformation has potentially influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, increased political polarization, contributed to the rise of the QAnon conspiracy theory, played a role in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and, now, helped to prolong the pandemic. As researcher Carl T. Bergstrom, co-author of “Stewardship of global collective behavior,” a paper that calls for more research into social media’s impact on society, told Recode’s Shirin Ghaffary, “social media in particular — as well as a broader range of internet technologies, including algorithmically driven search and click-based advertising — have changed the way that people get information and form opinions about the world. And they seem to have done so in a manner that makes people particularly vulnerable to the spread of misinformation and disinformation.” For their part, social media platforms have made attempts to stop the spread of false information, including removing posts and videos and banning accounts that spread it, as well as appending fact-checks or links to trusted information on posts and videos that might be misleading. As it became more likely that there would soon be a Covid vaccine at the end of 2020, various platforms were proactive in preparing for the vaccine misinformation that would (and did) inevitably follow. This came after years of these companies doing very little to stop the spread of misinformation about other vaccines, and despite many warnings from experts about the potential harm to public health done by hosting anti-vaccine content and communities. “We agree with the Surgeon General – tackling health misinformation takes a whole-of-society approach,” a Twitter spokesperson told Recode in a statement. “We’ll continue to take enforcement action on content that violates our COVID-19 misleading information policy and improve and expand our efforts to elevate credible, reliable health information — now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and as we collectively navigate the public health challenges to come.” YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez told Recode that the platform “removes content in accordance with our COVID-19 misinformation policies, which we keep current based on guidance from local health authorities. We also demote borderline videos and prominently surface authoritative content for COVID-19-related search results, recommendations, and context panels.” But many believe their efforts are too little, too late, and still don’t go far enough — including, it seems, the surgeon general. “We expect more from our technology companies,” Murthy said. Let’s see if we get it — and if, at this point, it will help.

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posted 12 days ago on re/code
Delta Airlines and United Airlines planes on a runway in Salt Lake City on April 15, 2008, the day Delta announced its merger with Northwest Airlines. Two years later, United would go on to acquire Continental Airlines, another major brand. | George Frey/Getty Images Feeling squeezed by corporate America? Monopolies have something to do with it. I rarely feel more squeezed as a consumer than I do when I fly. For some reason, I now have to pay to pick a seat. Buying the in-flight wifi is equivalent to throwing money in the trash. Flight insurance seems like a scam, but I’m never sure if surprise cancellation or change fees could make it worthwhile. The fee to check luggage, or even bring it on the plane with me, is always inexplicably increasing. A few years ago, United lost my bag for nearly the entirety of a 10-day trip to Nicaragua. (By the end, this trip was very gross.) It took me many weeks and multiple emails just to get back the money I’d paid to check the backpack that arrived at my destination literally the day before I went home. There are plenty of reasons flying sucks. But one major and constant issue is competition, or rather, the lack of it. Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order intended to increase competition. The headlines have largely been about how this affects big tech companies, but the truth is there are monopolies and oligopolies in all kinds of industries. The “big four” airlines — Delta, American, United, and Southwest — control a large majority of domestic passenger travel in the US. They set the rules of the air, whether that means increased baggage fees (sometimes happening in tandem) or higher ticket prices or an end of service to smaller airports altogether. And because there aren’t enough smaller players that can really compete with them — or stricter rules that, at the very least, make them be modestly less terrible — there’s not much ordinary people can do about it. A shitty flight experience is the only game in town. It’s a great deal for the airlines; not so much for passengers. Airlines collected $8.6 billion in baggage and change fees in 2019, six times the $1.4 billion they collected in 2007. Airlines are hardly the only example of corporate concentration making every life harder and pricier. Industry across industry, just one or a handful of companies is in control. And that often translates to a less-than-ideal situation for consumers. According to one estimate from New York University economist Thomas Philippon, monopolies and oligopolies cost the average American household some $5,000 a year. Airlines collected $8.6 billion in baggage and change fees in 2019, six times the $1.4 billion they collected in 2007 Antitrust isn’t the sexiest of topics for a lot of people, but it’s one that shows up everywhere. And if you start to think about it, it becomes obvious that, yeah, that is kind of lousy. Maybe your internet service is slow and spotty, but you only have one option, so the telecom company doesn’t have to lift a finger to make anything better and can basically charge you whatever it wants. Or the medication you need has become wildly expensive, but you can’t find a generic or alternative option anywhere else. Or you want to change banks, but moving all your information from one institution to another is too much of a headache. Or maybe you just looked closely at the label of the beer you’re buying and noticed the local brewery you thought you were handing your money to is actually owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev — as are half the other labels at the store. In recent decades, the US economy has seen a disturbing drop in competition across multiple sectors. Consumers have few options on everything from chocolate to glasses to cheerleading uniforms. Big businesses claim to be helping small businesses while at the same time often stunting their growth or finding ways to extract money from them. Increased competition can’t solve all of the American economy’s problems, or even most of them. But monopolies and corporate power permeate countless aspects of consumers’ lives. It’s ridiculous how hard it is to repair tech gadgets you own without going through the company that sold them to you, which, because it knows you don’t have another choice, can charge you whatever it wants. The same goes for a farmer trying to fix his or her tractor. To quote President Biden, come on, man. From an anti-monopoly standpoint, Biden’s competition executive order is a pretty big deal On July 9, President Biden signed an executive order on competition (Recode’s Sara Morrison has a write-up of it here) that — if you are a person who cares about antitrust and overly powerful companies — is a pretty big deal. It includes 72 initiatives tackling a broad range of issues and sectors. It orders the Department of Health and Human Services to issue rules allowing for the over-the-counter sale of hearing aids. It pushes the Federal Communications Commission to bar internet service providers from inking exclusivity deals with landlords to offer tenants one internet option. It says that if an airline loses the bag you paid to check, the Department of Transportation should make it give you your money back. The same goes for in-flight wifi if it doesn’t work. The order takes a big swing at empowering regulators looking at the consolidated agriculture industry, and it seeks to put some real teeth into the Federal Trade Commission’s mandate, where new chair Lina Khan is expected to make waves. “The heart of American capitalism is a simple idea: open and fair competition,” Biden said in a speech discussing the order. “That means that if your companies want to win your business, they have to go out and they have to up their game; better prices and services; new ideas and products.” The order signals that competition is not a minor issue but instead a major plank of the White House’s political agenda, said Sarah Miller, the executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, which backs antitrust efforts. “The point of this executive order was to situate it in that context,” she said. “This is something we’ve learned, and we’re rearranging our approach to how we think about the economy in a fundamental way.” “If your companies want to win your business, they have to go out and they have to up their game” The idea is that the policies put forward, if enacted, will make things cheaper, potentially make pay higher, and level the playing field for consumers, workers, and businesses. “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation,” Biden said in his speech on the executive order. He warned that without healthy competition, the biggest players can “change and charge what they want and treat you however they want.” The attention on antitrust concerns around Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook has sort of sucked all the air out of the room on the monopolies front in recent years, which can cloud the less headline-grabbing ways waning competition can affect people’s lives. It’s also a signal of the power of a more aggressive, progressive view of antitrust within the Biden administration, as John Cassidy notes in the New Yorker. Figures such as Khan, former Columbia law professor Tim Wu, and former Elizabeth Warren aide Bharat Ramamurti are all now working in the administration and are longtime critics of overly powerful corporations. Khan rose to prominence by penning “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” which lays out the case that the company poses a monopolistic threat, as a student at Yale’s law school. Wu coined the term “net neutrality” and has written extensively about the potential pitfalls of excessive industrial concentration. To be sure, how Biden’s executive order will fare in the real world remains to be seen. Some aspects of it would require legislation from Congress. Many of the rules this calls for will take months or years for agencies to put in place. And there are likely to be challenges in the courts, which have become more lenient on antitrust cases in recent decades. Once you see America’s monopoly problem, you can’t unsee it The US economy is one of growing inequality. It increasingly feels like those at the top are constantly gaining money and power while everyone else is left fighting for scraps. Corporate concentration and waning competition are contributing to that. Consumers and workers are stuck dealing with whatever conditions businesses impose on them. In an ideal world, the market would basically foster enough competition to deal with itself without a ton of government intervention. The basic economic theory is that if profits in a certain industry become very high, new incumbents are enticed to enter that industry to try to get a piece of the pie. Ideally, they would compete those excess profits away. But that’s not what’s going on in the economy right now or what has been happening in recent years. Instead, one or a handful of companies have been allowed to capture enormous amounts of market share across a litany of industries and then use the power accompanying that market share to keep competitors at bay. “Broadly speaking, over the last 20 years in the US, we see profits of incumbents becoming more persistent because they are less challenged, their market share has become both larger and more stable, and at the same time, we see a lot of lobbying by incumbents, in particular to get their mergers approved or to protect their rents,” Philippon, the NYU economist and author of The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets, told me in 2019. While there are often calls to break up Big Tech or to dismantle big companies altogether, like what happened with AT&T in the 1980s, it’s also possible to increase competition by just putting in place different rules and better enforcing the rules that are in place, which Biden’s team gets at. Biden isn’t pushing for the breakup of “big hearing aid”; he’s pushing for hearing aid makers to have to compete Take the example of the hearing aid market, which according to the Open Markets Institute is largely controlled by four companies. An estimated one in eight people in the US have hearing loss, which amounts to about 30 million people. Yet the vast majority of those people don’t have hearing aids, in part because they are expensive (costing some $5,000), often aren’t covered by insurance, and require a visit to a doctor or specialist. Biden isn’t pushing for the breakup of “big hearing aid”; he’s pushing for hearing aid makers to have to compete more by allowing for the devices to be sold over the counter. Congress passed legislation greenlighting that four years ago; it just hasn’t happened yet. If and when it does, the hope is that it lets more competitors get into the space with lower-cost offers that people will more easily be able to access. It seems small, but it has the potential to meaningfully improve millions of people’s lives. The hearing aid makers in control now still get to exist, just on a more level playing field. It’s a big deal that the president is drawing more attention to this issue and others like it — and, hopefully, that more people are paying attention, too. The next time you call to complain about your internet service yet again or book a flight and wonder how in the world those extra fees added up so much, part of the answer is the company you’re dealing with has no incentive to act differently. And the government, on behalf of citizens, should be incentivized to change that.

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posted 12 days ago on re/code
Rite Aid had deployed facial recognition in at least 200 stores over eight years, before ditching the technology last year. | Noam Galai/Getty Images Facial recognition is popping up at our favorite stores, but customers are largely unaware. Some of the US’s most popular stores — including Macy’s and Ace Hardware — are using facial recognition on their customers, largely without their knowledge. Now the digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future has helped launch a nationwide campaign to document which of the country’s biggest retailers are deploying facial recognition. Launched on Wednesday, the campaign, which has the support of more than 35 human rights groups, aims to draw attention to retail stores using facial-scanning algorithms to boost their profits, intensify security systems, and even track their employees. The campaign comes as a clear reminder that the reach of facial recognition goes far beyond law enforcement and into the private, commercial storefronts we regularly visit. Experts warn that facial recognition in these spaces is particularly concerning because the technology is largely unregulated and undisclosed, meaning both customers and employees may be unaware this software is surveilling and collecting data about them. “A lot of people would probably be surprised to know how many retailers that they shop in on a regular basis are using this technology in a variety of ways to protect their profits and maximize their profits as well,” Caitlin Seeley George, a campaign director at Fight for the Future, told Recode. While you may not have heard of it before, stores using facial recognition isn’t a new practice. Last year, Reuters reported that the drug chain Rite Aid had deployed facial recognition in at least 200 stores over nearly a decade (before the company suddenly committed to ditching the software). In fact, facial recognition is just one of several technologies store chains are deploying to enhance their security systems, or to otherwise surveil customers. Some retailers, for instance, have used apps and in-store wifi to track users while they move around physical stores and later target them with online ads. Several popular stores, including Lowe’s, the grocery chain Albertsons, and Macy’s, are already using facial recognition, according to Fight for the Future’s database. How exactly these retailers are using facial recognition can be unclear, since companies typically aren’t upfront about it. At the same time, a growing number of technology startups and security firms are looking for opportunities to sell this software to stores. Some of these sellers are already well-known, like Clearview AI, the controversial startup that scraped billions of people’s images from social media. But there are plenty of other facial recognition providers that have attracted less attention, such as firms like AnyVision, which announced it had raised $235 million just last week. Stores are embracing facial recognition tech because, they claim, it can help them prevent theft. But experts warn this technology raises alarms. Customers rarely know that this technology is in use, leaving them without the opportunity to say no or remove themselves from a store’s facial recognition-based watch list. At the same time, facial recognition algorithms can be inaccurate, and come with built-in racial and gender biases. In 2019, Apple was sued by a New York undergraduate student who alleges that the company uses facial recognition tech for security purposes and that it inaccurately linked him to several thefts at Apple stores that he didn’t commit. “We’re really concerned about how employees at retailers using facial recognition are impacted in a large part because they don’t really have an option to opt out if it comes to a point where people can either have their job and be under surveillance or not have a job,” George, of Fight for the Future, told Recode. Customers living in areas where there are few options for stores can also end up being coerced into accepting the technology, she added. One of the main challenges is that facial recognition is mostly unregulated, and many current efforts to rein in the technology primarily focus on its use by government and law enforcement. “The laws are so different it would be probably impossible to write a clean, clearly understood bill regulating both consumer and government,” Brian Hofer, who helped put together the facial recognition ban in San Francisco, told Recode last year. But there have been attempts to regulate this tech, even when used privately. In 2019, Lowe’s and Home Depot were sued for using facial recognition in violation of Illinois’s biometric privacy law, one of the strongest laws in the country. Just this month, a New York City law finally went into effect that requires stores and businesses to tell customers when they collect their biometric data. And this week, the commission that oversees the Port of Seattle voted to ban biometric tech from its facilities. While members of Congress have proposed several ideas for giving customers more protection against private companies’ use of facial recognition, there’s yet to be significant regulation at the federal level. “In the vast majority of cities and towns, there are no rules on when private companies can use surveillance tech, and when they can share the information with police, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], or even private ads,” warns Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. In the meantime, Fight for the Future is moving forward with its plan to call out companies already using the technology. The group is also collecting information about competing stores that don’t use facial recognition, so people can have the option to avoid this surveillance if they want.

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posted 13 days ago on re/code
Mark Zuckerberg at the Sun Valley media and tech conference, July 2021. | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images YouTube gives half its revenue to the people who make its videos. Facebook — despite a $1 billion pledge — doesn’t want to do that. Facebook has nearly 2.9 billion users, so lots of people use Facebook to reach that giant audience. But Facebook wants even more people posting more stuff on its platforms, so it’s going to pay out $1 billion by the end of 2022 to encourage creators — people who make internet content for fun and profit but generally aren’t running full-fledged media companies — to make stuff for Facebook and Instagram. The impetus here is clear: Facebook wants more engaging stuff on its apps, and it’s also trying to compete with the likes of TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube. Rewarding people who make stuff for you by paying them is a well-worn playbook for the big internet platforms. Yes, they would really rather have you give them your stuff for free — and you are very much welcome to continue giving Mark Zuckerberg pictures of your dogs and kids. Still, Facebook and its competitors have come to realize that people who are really good at making things often want to get paid for those things. So, fine. But it’s worth noting that there’s a meaningful difference between Facebook’s newest gambit and the one that Google’s YouTube has been using to great success: Facebook, for now, is giving creators a lot less money. When you make stuff for YouTube, you get a chance to make money the same way YouTube makes money — from ads that run next to the videos you upload to YouTube. At Facebook, though, there are two different pools of money: One is generated by ads connected to the videos and photos you post on Facebook, and the other is generated by ads everywhere else on Facebook. The first pool is the one that Facebook’s creators can access. The other one is really, really, big. And that’s the one Facebook is keeping all for itself. This is one of those that’s a little easier to understand with visual aids. So: Here’s a YouTube video by Mr. Beast, the site’s most popular creator. YouTube gets paid for the ads that run before and during the clip, and Jimmy Donaldson, the 23-year-old behind Mr. Beast, gets 55 percent of the revenue those ads generate. YouTube can also make money other ways, like selling banner ads on its homepage. But the vast majority of its money comes from ads attached directly to the videos it shows to more than 2 billion people every month. So YouTube is directly aligned with the people who generate the stuff that powers YouTube. At Facebook, though, that connection is much weaker. In theory, Facebook can run ads on videos on things like IG TV, its attempt to create a sorta-YouTube. But most of the money that Facebook makes from ads — and Facebook makes nearly all of its money from ads — isn’t tied directly to content users post there. If you flip through Instagram and see a Nike ad, that ad floats on its own. It’s not tethered to a post from The Rock or Kylie Jenner. The same goes for your Facebook News Feed. So though Facebook has some ways to share revenue directly with creators, it usually doesn’t give them a cut of money associated with their content. And it’s why lots of the new programs Zuckerberg laid out today are generally connected to frequency or performance — Facebook is fuzzy about what exactly performance means, though — as opposed to the revenue the content generates. Which means there’s a real money gap for creators who thrive on Facebook versus those on YouTube; it’s why top YouTube creators like Donaldson stick with YouTube instead of trying to branch out onto other platforms. And it’s why YouTube says it paid out $30 billion to its content partners over the last three years. So if Facebook really wants people to put engaging stuff on Facebook so it can compete with YouTube and TikTok and Twitter and Snapchat, why not give them a chance to make more money? People familiar with the company tell me there are two reasons. The first is practical: On YouTube, it’s easy to understand that someone who watched a Mr. Beast video watched the ad that ran before it. On Facebook or Instagram, though, it would be difficult to attribute the connection between the Airbnb ad you scrolled past and the Ariana Grande post you eventually landed on. The second reason is philosophical, and perhaps more important: I’m told that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t think Facebook content-makers should get a cut of all of Facebook’s revenue. And that while he’s happy Facebook content-makers are giving him content, he thinks he can replace them with others if they don’t like the terms. That philosophy runs a bit contrary to the fact that Facebook has just said it’s going to spend $1 billion to prompt people to give it content — Facebook clearly feels that it has to compete for creators’ time and energy. On the other hand, $1 billion over a year is much less than $30 billion over three years. And, to put a fine point on it, the “our content makes Facebook more valuable so Facebook should pay us for it” argument is the one that lawmakers in Australia and an increasing number of European countries are making to justify mandatory payouts from Facebook to publishers — a set of rules Facebook absolutely hates but has had to grudgingly accept. So telling creators — even those Facebook would really like on the platform — that they can have a piece of the entire Facebook pie — instead of a slice of a slice — doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen.

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posted 13 days ago on re/code
A mural of soccer player Marcus Rashford in his hometown of Withington, England, where fans left messages of support following the Euros 2020 finals loss on July 11, 2021. | Lindsey Parnaby/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Facebook’s and Twitter’s sluggish reactions show how they still rely on users to combat hate speech. It wasn’t exactly surprising that hordes of social media trolls viciously attacked three Black players on England’s soccer team with racist comments and emojis after a historic loss on Sunday, July 11. What was unexpected was how quickly even more social media users came to the defense of the players. “I’ve been working in anti-racism for over 20 years, and I am surprised at how huge and widespread and how swift the anti-racist response was,” said Sabby Dhalu, who works at the UK nonprofit Stand Up to Racism. Tens of thousands of commenters directly combated the racist attacks by posting positive messages on the personal Facebook and Instagram pages of the three players: Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka. By Monday morning in California, supportive comments started to outnumber the negative ones on players’ recent Instagram photos. Fans trying to counteract the hate speech on Facebook and Instagram urged fellow supporters to report offensive comments to company moderators. At the same time, they expressed frustration with these companies for their sluggish moderation of these attacks. While Twitter and Facebook eventually took down most of the blatantly racist comments, the onus fell to everyday users on the platforms to react quickly and shut down the toxic discourse. The incident showed how regular users on social media are increasingly stepping up when social media companies don’t do enough to stop the spread of hate speech on their platforms. Facebook, for example, does not proactively moderate a common type of racist attack, one that was being used aggressively on Rashford, Sancho, and Saka’s accounts: comments full of monkey and banana peel emojis. Instead, Facebook relies on users to report these kinds of comments, a company spokesperson told Recode. Once users report them, Facebook’s content moderators may take the comments down if the emojis are being used inappropriately. The company also encourages users experiencing harassment to defend themselves by turning on a “hidden words” feature that can block designated words or emojis in comments on their posts. Many soccer fans reported these types of racist posts to the social media company where the posts appeared, and also tried to overpower the posts by sharing positive messages of their own. One viral tweet said, “They’re colour blind when you’re winning, but can only see colour when you lose. Proud of you, Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho. Still we rise.” The 15 most shared tweets containing the three players’ names as of Monday afternoon were similarly all supportive, according to data provided to Recode by social media research organization First Draft News. The hashtag “#saynotoracism” started trending on Twitter in the UK soon after the game. A supportive message about one of the players, Rashford, saying, “Our hero, always. There is so much love for you, Marcus Rashford,” was one of the most shared links posted by a verified account on Facebook on Tuesday within the previous 24 hours, according to Facebook-owned analytics tool Crowdtangle. But it takes only a relatively small group of users to successfully harass someone on social media. Twitter said it took down 1,000 posts in the 24 hours since the game. Facebook, which owns Instagram, declined to say how many posts the company removed, but said in a statement that it “quickly removed” an unspecified number of comments and accounts. Still, Facebook’s and Twitter’s responses also fell short in the eyes of many British politicians and public figures, including leaders of England’s Conservative Party such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who sharply criticized these companies for the vitriol on their platforms. In the past, Johnson and other members of the Conservative Party have been criticized for not supporting England’s football players when they decided to take a knee to protest racial discrimination. But this time, politicians, media outlets, and public figures across the political spectrum in England were unified in their condemnation. “I share the anger at appalling racist abuse of our heroic players. Social media companies need to up their game in addressing it, and, if they fail to, our new Online Safety Bill will hold them to account with fines of up to 10 percent of global revenue,” Oliver Dowden, England’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, tweeted on Monday. Social media companies have long struggled to police the flow of hate speech and misinformation on their platforms. In this case, Twitter said it used a “combination of machine learning-based automation and human review” to identify racist comments toward players, and that it “proactively” flagged a majority of this content with its technology. Facebook said the company “quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers” and that it will “continue to take action against those that break our rules.” “No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on Instagram and Facebook,” read part of a statement sent by Facebook. “No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re committed to keeping our community safe from abuse.” But Facebook is still relying on its users to identify much of this content. “I think it’s too much to be asking someone to make a complaint, every single time,” said Dhalu. “Companies need to be setting up a filter to prevent this. It’s pretty shocking that they’re not.” And while it would have helped deter abuse against these specific players if the platforms had chosen to proactively monitor and delete racist comments on their accounts, the issue of harassment and hate speech on social media is widespread. These companies need to enforce the rules better across the board, said Sunder Katwala, director of the UK-based multiculturalism think tank British Future. “I think the more fundamental point is: What is allowed and what isn’t allowed?” asked Katwala. “The [social media companies] are saying, ‘racist behavior has no place on our platform,’ but you’ve got all kinds of racist comments.” The English soccer team situation shows that social media companies still have a long way to go before they’re actually backing up their stated commitment to barring racism on their platforms. In the meantime, it seems that do-gooder users are counterbalancing the hate. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either a hopeful sign that shows everyday people are stepping up to combat racism — or it’s a disappointing indication that powerful social media companies still aren’t doing what’s necessary to stop hate speech before it spreads on their platforms.

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posted 14 days ago on re/code
Paulina Mansz, a group fitness instructor, records a workout session for her clients from home in April 2020. | Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images Despite stress, depression, and overwork, women still want to work from home. Women may be more likely to want to work from home than men. They’ve also had a harder time doing so, reporting higher rates of stress, depression, and sheer hours worked — especially if they have kids. This paradox is a result of women trying to do the best thing for their careers while also navigating an unfair role in society and at home. In other words, women need more flexible work arrangements, because women have more to do. While the ability to work from home has been a godsend for working parents who were able to keep their children and jobs safe during the pandemic, it’s also exacerbated deeply ingrained gender inequality. Too often a crying toddler makes a cameo on a mother’s Zoom call and not a father’s. In a spare moment, women turn over the laundry while men don’t. Day-to-day scheduling, schooling, as well as decisions about their family’s health amid a global health crisis disproportionately fall to women. And that’s only talking about women fortunate enough to be able to work from home — typically knowledge workers, whose relatively high-paying jobs have also afforded them a measure of physical safety. For many women, working from home isn’t an option at all. Women who have to work outside the home and care for children, especially without a partner at home, have to face a whole different set of challenging, and dangerous, circumstances. Even before the pandemic, women were doing what sociologists describe as the “second shift,” where they complete an inordinate amount of household and caregiving chores after they’ve finished their paid labor. The pandemic has made things even worse, since much of the infrastructure that helps alleviate those tasks — schools, day care, elder care, cleaning services — has been off-limits. While women and men alike have worked from home, employed women are three times more likely than men to be their children’s main caregiver during this period. Additionally, telecommuting moms significantly increased the amount of housework they did while working from home (men didn’t). “They literally were not having the same experience,” Alexis Krivkovich, a senior partner in McKinsey & Company’s Bay Area office and co-author of “Women in the Workplace,” a report about the female corporate workforce in 2020, told Recode. “The double shift turned into the double double.” Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe/Getty Images A mother checks on her daughter’s homework while working from their home in Massachusetts in March 2020. The result is that women are more likely to feel burned out than men, and that has negatively affected their experience working from home. Some 79 percent of men said they have had a positive work-from-home experience during the pandemic, compared with just 37 percent of women, according to McKinsey. In turn, one in four women and one in three mothers said they were thinking about downshifting their careers or stepping out of the workforce entirely. “They couldn’t juggle the added responsibility that was coming on the household front at the same time they were trying to maintain the job front,” Krivkovich said. Indeed, women have been leaving the workforce at much higher rates than men — a move that could affect their careers and earning power if and when they return. Some fear that with the rise of remote work, these issues will continue, even after the pandemic’s most acute effects subside. Why women are having a worse time Despite massive strides in education and workforce participation, caregiving and household work are still considered women’s duties. That message is reinforced by a combination of cultural norms and economic structures. A lot of American work culture is based on a “traditional,” 1950s ideal: Men work outside the house, women stay at home with the kids. But this was never the reality for many working-class families, or families of color, across American history. And today, it’s economically necessary for both parents to do paid work for a living, even in middle-class households. The burden of domestic labor, however, is not being shared equally among heterosexual couples. “What we see is this drastic change in women’s behavior by entering paid work,” Caitlyn Collins, an assistant professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, said of women’s movement into the workforce since the mid-1900s. “But we have not seen a similar drastic change in men’s uptake of domestic labor.” Many antiquated ideas of women’s place in society persist. Women are more likely to be held responsible for household chores and child care, while men get to prioritize their work — despite the fact that both men and women are working. During the pandemic, mothers have been twice as likely as fathers in a dual-career couple to do an extra five hours of domestic chores per day, according to McKinsey, which looked at the issue from June to August of 2020. Yale research shows that even in cases where both parents worked from home, women have done more household and child care work. “A lot of women, we grow up in this environment, so we internalize these kind of norms,” said Emma Zang, a Yale assistant professor in sociology who co-authored the study. “So if you have to sacrifice a little bit from family for work, then women may feel more stressed, more frustrated compared to men, because they view that taking care of family is more of their responsibility.” Even at senior levels, the situation is inequitable. An unpublished McKinsey survey found that while two-thirds of men in top management positions had a partner who stayed at home or who didn’t work full time, two-thirds of women in those positions had a partner who was working full time. In other words, executive women are less likely to have domestic help from their spouse. Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images A mother vacuums crackers spilled by her son while she works from home in San Francisco in 2013. There’s also evidence that, since the pandemic began, US attitudes about gender roles have become more conservative. While people are now more likely to say women should make money than they were pre-pandemic, they’re also more likely to think women should parent young children and stay at home, according to research published in the American Sociological Association’s journal. In addition to these cultural norms, women must also deal with economic precedents. Employers don’t compensate women as highly as men — even in high-skill fields. If women make less than men, it’s easier for a couple to decide that the woman’s job is less important. That can lead to the woman cutting down or relinquishing her career to take care of domestic duties. Frequently it means taking on domestic duties in addition to paid labor. “Many of the moms that we talked to, for example, were already earning less than their husbands or partners before the pandemic,” Jessica Calarco, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, told Recode. “And so when the pandemic hit, it seemed practical for them to be the ones to care for their children at home.” Even when domestic tasks are done as paid labor, they’re dominated by women — and the pay is paltry. “The reason we don’t pay caregivers well is because we don’t value caregiving, and think of it as an unskilled task, because it’s associated with femininity,” Collins said. “Secondly, we don’t think of it as skilled labor like construction. There is a belief in US society that caregiving is something you don’t have to learn how to do.” As Calarco put it, “The labor that women are doing as caregivers has been undervalued in a way that systematically benefits men in the workplace, and allows men to better compete in their careers.” In other words, both cultural and structural systems are stacked against women. And though remote work can in some ways seem detrimental to women, women ultimately view its flexibility as a positive development and a way to achieve equality at work. Flexible work can be good for women Even before the pandemic, women were clamoring for remote work, according to data from McKinsey. Generally they think its pros — giving them the ability to perform domestic tasks they do anyway and allowing them to sidestep an office-centric model more likely to benefit men — outweigh its cons. And as more people in general work remotely, lingering misgivings about remote work will likely dissolve. The second shift existed before the pandemic, and it will exist after it, too. Remote work is an acquiescence to what is a reality for many women: doing more. “If women feel disproportionately responsible for the household activities and for parenting, working remotely makes life a whole lot more flexible,” Jerry Jacobs, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said. Child care and other domestic work have been more obviously demanding during the pandemic, but they’ve always been demanding. Remote work just makes an untenable situation more possible. “Remote work is central to allowing people with caregiving responsibilities the flexibility and control over their schedules that they need to provide that care,” Collins said. It’s also important to remember that the office has never been particularly hospitable to women. That’s in part because office culture rewarded long hours as well as hours after work fraternizing with bosses while a partner helped out at home. It’s a situation that usually benefited men, not women. “We need to reimagine that,” Krivkovich said. “Most women are not living that reality.” Women were left out of conversations in the physical office, demeaned, or made to feel like they didn’t belong. Women in senior-level positions, especially Black women, are frequently the only person of their sex or race in the room, which can result in pressure to work more or feelings of otherness. “Particularly women of color really want remote work, because it allows them to avoid some of the microaggressions that they would experience on a daily basis,” said Tara Van Bommel, director and statistician at Catalyst, a nonprofit advocating for women in the workplace. That’s not to mention dangers like sexual harassment, which can be more acute in a physical setting. Mothers, especially, have faced stigma in the office. “Mothers are treated differently in the workplace than fathers,” Gayle Kaufman, a professor of sociology at Davidson College, said. “For fathers, my research suggests that they’re not even seen as fathers.” When women become mothers, they’re expected to cut back on paid work, and it adversely affects perceptions of their career prospects. When men have kids, it’s a different story. “If it affects them, it’s going to affect them in a good way, because they’re going to want to provide for their family,” Kaufman said, describing how men are perceived. Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images A father takes a break while working from home while his wife plays with their young daughter, in May 2021. All in all, the office could be a bit of a boys’ club. With this in mind, women’s experience of working from home can be better than working in the office. “We find that remote work access diminishes burnout across three different types of burnout. And it does that for everyone, not just for women,” Van Bommel said. Employees with access to remote work had lower rates of burnout in regard to work, their personal life, and Covid-19, according to her research with Catalyst. Remote work is, at least, more likely to keep women in the workforce. Catalyst also found that working from home could help keep women with kids in the workforce. Women with child care responsibilities who could work remotely were 32 percent less likely to say they’re going to leave their job in the next year compared to those who couldn’t work from home. A 2013 Catalyst study of people in MBA programs found that when women didn’t have access to flexible work arrangements, they were more than twice as likely as men to downsize their career aspirations. Some fear that remote working could hinder women’s careers since bosses might equate face time with actual work, or that it could dampen women’s likelihood of promotion since working from a distance could make them seem less involved. That’s less likely to be the case as more and more people continue working remotely. “Working from home is going to become more common, and people will be less judgmental towards men or women who work from home,” Zang said. “If you’re less likely to be judged, then we would suppose that they will be less likely to face career consequences if they want to work from home.” All in all, it’s certainly possible that remote work could be a good thing for women. However, it might take some effort to get it there. “Remote work absolutely can work for women,” Krivkovich said. “What we need is to make sure that the support that allows working women to equally focus on work as their male peers is there.” How do we make working from home more fair to women? It’s not that remote work itself is inequitable to women. Rather, the situation in which we’re performing remote work is unjust. To ameliorate it, experts say there are a number of things the government and employers can do: Paid parental leave. Giving men and women paid parental leave would make it so that both sexes would learn how to care for their children, so that the burden doesn’t fall as unfairly on women. It’s also important that the amount paid parental leave compensates parents is near to all of the wages they would lose out on, to make sure both parents take it. Men, like women, have to learn how to care for children. “My research shows once they’re spending time with their kids at an early age, right off the bat, they want to be involved,” Kaufman said. “That affects how they approach their life, including work, so they start making decisions about work based on their family lives, just as mothers have done.” Subsidized child care. Child care, especially for young children, exists in a patchwork fashion in the US. Affordable and accessible child care is necessary to keep women from doing a disproportionate amount of it themselves while they work. Compensate women equally. If women were paid as much as men, their work would be less likely to play second fiddle to men’s. Focus on productivity, not hours logged. To make sure women aren’t punished for remote work, employers must measure work by the work itself — not how long they spend doing it. “We’re still measuring productivity in terms of inputs, not outputs, meaning we’re overly fixated on ‘can you get in a car and drive and sit at this desk where I can watch you work’ as opposed to focusing on great output of work,” Krivkovich said. “What you see with women, in part because of the pressures they feel around all the other responsibilities they hold outside of the workplace, is that breaking that assumption is just hugely valuable to them.” Promote people who work from home equally. Make sure there’s not a two-tier system that preferences those who can show up in the office more. As Van Bommel put it, “Tracking who’s getting advancement opportunities, who’s getting promotions, sponsorship, stretch assignments, to ensure that there’s equity regardless of people’s location, is really critical to countering that bias towards face time.” Be clear about remote work expectations. If working from home is going to work for women, it’s important that there are clear boundaries around how and when employees are expected to communicate, lest the flexibility of remote work simply result in more work. “I think if it’s clear that you’re not supposed to work at night, not supposed to work on weekends, any more than you were before,” Jacobs said, “that’s going to disproportionately benefit women.” Brent Stirton/Getty Images A working ER nurse plays with her children at home in April 2020 in California.

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posted 15 days ago on re/code
Christina Animashaun/Vox Why privacy and patient advocates are worried that substance use disorder apps aren’t keeping data private. Jonathan J.K. Stoltman already knew how hard it can be for people with addiction to find the right treatment. As director of the Opioid Policy Institute, he also knew how much worse the pandemic made it: A family member had died of an opioid overdose last November after what Stoltman describes as an “enormous effort” to find them care. So Stoltman was hopeful that technology could improve patient access to treatment programs through things like addiction treatment and recovery apps. But then he consulted last year with a company that makes an app for people with substance use disorders, where he says he was told that apps commonly collected data and tracked their users. He worried that they weren’t protecting privacy as well as they should, considering who they were built to help. “I left after expressing concerns about patient privacy and quality care,” Stoltman told Recode. “I’m a tech optimist at heart, but I also know that with that widespread reach they can have widespread harms. People with an addiction already face substantial discrimination and stigma.” So Stoltman reached out to Sean O’Brien, principal researcher at ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab, last March, asking if his team could analyze some apps and see if Stoltman’s concerns were founded. O’Brien, who has extensively studied app trackers, was happy to help. “I had a responsibility to find out what data [the apps] collected and who they might be sharing it with,” O’Brien told Recode. The results are in a new report that examined the data collection practices in a number of apps for opioid addiction and recovery. The research, which was conducted by ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab in partnership with the Opioid Policy Institute and the Defensive Lab Agency, found that nearly all of the apps gave third parties, including Facebook and Google, access to user data. O’Brien said he didn’t think anyone on his team “expected to find so much sloppy handling of sensitive data.” “Smartphone users are simply not aware of the extent that they can be identified in a crowd” Researchers couldn’t tell if that data was actually going to those third parties, nor could they tell what those third parties were doing with that data when and if they got it. But the fact that they could get it and that the apps were built to give them that access was enough to alarm privacy researchers and patient advocates. The report illustrates just how bad apps can be at privacy — even when they’re bound by the highest legal and ethical requirements and serve the most vulnerable population. And that developers can’t get privacy right for these kinds of apps doesn’t bode well for user privacy in all the apps we give sensitive data to. “Smartphone users are simply not aware of the extent that they can be identified in a crowd,” O’Brien said. “If a user of a leaky app becomes a patient and is prescribed medication, the sharing of that info could create rippling effects far into the future.” Adding to the problem is the rise of telehealth during the pandemic, which also came with a few loosened privacy restrictions to enable health care providers to see patients remotely after abruptly being cut off from in-person visits. Getting people the health care they need is, of course, a good thing. But the sudden move to telehealth, medical apps, and other online health services for everything from therapy to vaccine registrations also made more apparent some of the shortcomings of health privacy laws when it comes to protecting patient data. There are a lot of gray areas surrounding what those laws are supposed to cover. And in general, apps are built to constantly (and, often, furtively) exchange user data with several other parties and services, some of which use that data for their own purposes. How apps give away your data ... The ExpressVPN report looked at 10 Android apps, many of which provide medication-assisted treatments, or drugs that reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms, via telehealth. Those apps have become more widely used in the past year and a half, as they’ve expanded their coverage areas and raised millions in venture capital funds. They’ve also benefited from a temporary waiver of a rule that requires first-time patients to have an in-person evaluation before a doctor can prescribe Suboxone, which alleviates opioid withdrawal symptoms. Unless and until that rule is restored, an entire treatment program can be done through an app. That might lower the barriers to access for some people, especially if they don’t live close to a treatment provider, but the report found that it may also expose their data to third parties the apps use to provide certain services through, among other things, software development kits, or SDKs. SDKs are tools made by third parties that app developers can use to add functions to their apps that they can’t or don’t want to build themselves. A telehealth app might use Zoom to provide videoconferencing, for example. But these SDKs must communicate with their provider to work, which means apps are sending some data about their users to a third party. How much and what type of data is exchanged depends on what the SDK needs and whatever restrictions the developer has placed, or is able to place, on it. Some of the apps named in the report — Bicycle Health, Confidant Health, and Workit Health — told Recode that they have all the legally required agreements with their SDK vendors to protect any data exchanged, and that patient confidentiality is important to them. “Using external tools to identify SDKs that are inside of apps and their function is difficult and typically problematic,” Jon Read, founder of Confidant, told Recode. He said that the Facebook SDK his app used was to allow users to voluntarily and easily share updates on their progress with their Facebook or Instagram friends. “No protected data was being shared with those services,” he added. But some of the types of data those SDKs can access — like advertising IDs, which are unique to devices and can be used to track users across apps — indicated to researchers that they are collecting data beyond what the app or the SDK needs to function. And patients might not be comfortable about which vendors have access to their data without their knowledge. Facebook, Google, and Zoom, for instance, have all had their share of very public privacy issues, while most people probably have no idea what AppsFlyer, Branch, or OneSignal are or what they do (analytics and marketing, basically). ExpressVPN also found that Kaden Health, which provides medication-assisted therapy and counseling services, gave the payment processor Stripe access to several identifiers and information, including a list of installed apps on a user’s device and their location, IP address, unique device and SIM card IDs, phone number, and mobile carrier name. Kaden also gave Facebook location access and gave Google access to the device’s advertising ID, according to the report. Kaden did not respond to a request for comment, but its privacy policy says “we also work with third parties to serve ads to you as part of customized campaigns on third-party platforms (such as Facebook and Instagram).” This worries patient advocates who see the potential of these apps and how they remove barriers to access for some patients, but are concerned about the cost to patient privacy if these practices continue. “Many people agree that addiction treatment needs to advance with the science,” Stoltman said. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find people that think the problem is ‘we don’t give enough patient data to Facebook and Google.’ … Patients shouldn’t have to trade over their privacy to benefit corporate interests for access to lifesaving treatment.” Yet many people do just that, and not just when it comes to opioid addiction and recovery apps. The report also speaks to a larger issue with the health app industry. Apps are built on technology that is designed to collect and share as much information about their users as possible. The app economy is based on tracking app users and making inferences about their behavior to target ads to them. The fact that we often take our devices with us everywhere and do so many things on them means we give a lot of information away. We usually don’t know how we’re being tracked, who our information is being shared with, or how it’s being used. Even the app developers themselves don’t always know where the information their apps collect is going. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find people that think the problem is ‘we don’t give enough patient data to Facebook and Google’” That means health apps collect data that we consider to be our most sensitive and personal but may not protect it as well as they should. In the case of substance use disorder apps, patients are entrusting apps with intimate information about their stigmatized and, in some cases, criminalized health condition. But there are also apps that provide mental health services, measure heart rates, monitor symptoms of chronic illnesses, check for discounts on prescription drugs, and track menstrual cycles. Their users may expect a level of privacy that they aren’t getting. ... And why most of them are allowed to do it Those users number in the millions: A 2015 survey found that nearly 60 percent of respondents had at least one health app on their mobile devices. And that was six years ago and before the pandemic, when health and wellness app use ballooned. Silicon Valley clearly sees the potential of health apps. Big tech companies like Amazon and Google are continuing to invest in health care as more services move online, which leads to more questions about how these companies, some of which aren’t known for having great privacy protections, will handle the sensitive data they get access to. Recognizing their growth and how and why consumers use these apps, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) even released a mobile health app-specific guide to privacy and security best practices in April 2016. Five years later, it doesn’t appear that many health apps are following them. A recent study of more than 20,000 Android health and medical apps published in the British Medical Journal found that the vast majority of them could access and share personal data, and they often weren’t transparent with users about their privacy practices or simply didn’t follow them — if they had privacy policies at all. There have been reports that mental health apps share user data with third parties, including Facebook and Google. GoodRx, an app that helps people find cheaper prices for prescription drugs, was caught sending user data to Facebook, Google, and marketing companies in 2019. The menstrual tracker Flo has become a case study in health privacy violations for telling users that their health data wouldn’t be shared and then sending that data to Facebook, Google, and other marketing services. Flo reached a settlement with the FTC over those allegations last month and has admitted no wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services waived certain privacy rules for telehealth for the duration of the pandemic to make more services available quickly when people were suddenly cut off from in-person care. That doesn’t apply to most of these apps, which, while classified as “health” apps, aren’t covered by medical privacy laws at all. Flo, for instance, got in trouble with the FTC over the deceptive wording of its privacy policy, which amounts to a consumer protection matter, not a health privacy one. But many of the opioid addiction recovery and treatment apps ExpressVPN looked at should be covered by the strictest medical records privacy laws in the country — both the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and 42 CFR Part 2, which specifically regulates substance use disorder patient records. Part 2 was created to ensure the confidentiality of patient records in substance use disorder programs that receive federal assistance (which all but one of the apps ExpressVPN looked at do, though Part 2 doesn’t apply to all of the services they offer). The rule is written to ensure patients wouldn’t be discouraged from seeking treatment. Accordingly, Part 2 is more restrictive than HIPAA in terms of who has access to a patient’s records and why, and says that any identifying information about a patient (or de-identified data that can be combined with other sources to re-identify a patient) can only be shared with that patient’s written consent. There may also be state laws that further restrict or regulate patient record confidentiality. “I felt strongly about making sure we protect our patients as we grow. But we also want to bring them best-in-class resources. So it is a balance.” But legal experts point out that those decades-old laws haven’t kept up with rapidly advancing technology, creating a legal gray area when it comes to apps and the data they may share with third parties. A spokesperson for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which regulates Part 2, told Recode that “data collected by mobile health apps is not squarely addressed by existing law, regulations, and guidance.” “Patients should receive the same standard of confidentiality whether they’re meeting a provider face-to-face or seeking support through an app,” Jacqueline Seitz, senior staff attorney for Health Privacy at the Legal Action Center, told Recode. The report, she said, showed that they may not be. Private health apps are possible, but they’re not easy to make It doesn’t have to be this way. Experts say it is possible to build an app that should fulfill both the privacy and security expectations and the legal requirements of a substance use disorder app — or a health app, in general. It’s just much more difficult and requires more expertise to do so than to build an app without any privacy considerations at all. “I would never say something is 100 percent secure, and probably nothing is 100 percent private,” Andrés Arrieta, director of consumer privacy engineering at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Recode. “But that’s not to say that you can’t do something that is very private or very secure. I think it’s technically possible. It’s just a willingness, or whether the company organization has the actual skills to do so.” O’Brien agreed, saying app developers — albeit relatively few of them — have demonstrated that private and secure apps are possible. He said he saw no reason telehealth apps couldn’t do the same. In fact, one of the apps ExpressVPN looked at didn’t have any tracking SDKs at all: PursueCare. The company told Recode that wasn’t easy to accomplish, and may not be permanent. “I felt strongly about making sure we protect our patients as we grow,” PursueCare founder and CEO Nicholas Mercadante said. “But we also want to bring them best-in-class resources. So it is a balance.” Mercadante added that PursueCare would likely, at some point, add a feature with a marketing SDK. “There’s almost no way to protect against all disclosures,” he said. The company would have to balance the privacy risks with health rewards when the time came. If a health app isn’t necessary to provide patient care and consumers are properly informed about potential privacy violations, they can make their own decisions about what works best for them. But that’s not the case for every app, or every patient. If the only way you can get the help you need — whether it’s for opioid addiction recovery or any other mental or physical condition — is through an app, the privacy trade-off might be worth it to you. But it shouldn’t be one that you have to make, and you should at least be able to know you’re making it. “Telehealth can provide us with the services we need while still preserving our privacy and, really, our dignity,” O’Brien said. “That won’t happen without honesty, transparency, and patients who call for serious change.” If you or someone you know needs addiction treatment, you can seek help online through SAMHSA’s treatment locator or by phone at 1-800-662-4357.

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posted 17 days ago on re/code
Virgin Galactic’s flight will get to the border of space, with help from a mothership. | Virgin Galactic The Virgin Group founder is taking another step toward making space tourism a reality. British businessman and billionaire Richard Branson has tried a lot of things in his life, from crossing the Atlantic by powerboat in record time to attempting to travel the world via hot air balloon (before crash landing). But his upcoming feat might be his most notable yet: traveling to space — and possibly beating fellow billionaire and space startup founder Jeff Bezos in the process. This Sunday morning, Branson will join five other people on Virgin Galactic’s first full-crewed flight to space. If all goes according to plan, they’ll travel more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface on the VSS Unity spaceplane, an airplane-like vehicle that will be carried by a mothership before reaching what NASA considers to be the border between outer space and Earth. The goal is to demonstrate that space tourism really is possible, and during the estimated 90-minute trip, riders will experience weightlessness and see stunning views of Earth. The company is planning to livestream the flight on its website, as well as on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, beginning at 9 am ET. Space tourism has long been an aspiration of Branson’s. The British businessman, whose terrestrial ventures through the Virgin Group include everything from a record company to air travel, founded Virgin Galactic back in 2004, just as the private space industry was starting to become competitive. In 2000, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin, and two years later, Elon Musk founded SpaceX. For more than a decade, these private companies have been racing each other, launching test flights and preparing to send humans — including civilians — to space. At the same time, NASA has increasingly turned to these private space firms for its own work, including help with delivering payloads, training astronauts, and even returning to the moon. “If you’re going to get people to pay to do this, most people aren’t going to pay to do that if there’s a relatively good chance that they’re going to die,” Janet Bednarek, an aviation historian at the University of Dayton, told Recode. “I think that’s in part why Branson is going on this flight. It’s signaling that this is now safe.” If Branson successfully launches on Sunday, it will be a new milestone for Virgin Galactic, and one that will move humanity even closer to the age of commercial space tourism. While SpaceX and Blue Origin have a range of other goals, including delivering payloads to the International Space Station, Virgin Galactic has stood out for its long-time focus on space tourism: the idea that people will be willing to dole out a lot of money for the opportunity to travel to space. “We hope to create thousands of astronauts over the next few years and bring alive their dream of seeing the majestic beauty of our planet from above, the stars in all their glory, and the amazing sensation of weightlessness,” Branson proclaimed back in 2004. At the time, Branson predicted the company could send five-person trips to space for just $200,000, and that thousands of astronauts could be sent to space in the coming years. In 2019, Virgin Galactic became the first space tourism firm to go public, and in June, the company received the first-ever operator license from the Federal Aviation Administration, meaning that it now has permission to fly paying customers. Branson has also launched Virgin Orbit, a parallel company that launches satellites, where SpaceX is also competing. Sunday’s launch will mean Branson and Virgin Galactic have come out ahead of Bezos and Musk in the private space race. While Branson has insisted he’s not trying to beat Bezos and Blue Origin to get to space first, he did announce his July 11 flight just hours after the Amazon CEO said he would take off on July 20. Bezos seems at least slightly piqued by Branson changing his launch date: On Friday, Blue Origin questioned whether Sunday’s Virgin Galactic flight will really make it to space, since the flight isn’t technically crossing the internationally recognized border, the Kármán line, about 12 miles higher than the NASA-recognized border. Virgin Galactic’s journey to commercial space tourism has had its share of serious setbacks. In 2014, a test flight of the company’s SpaceShipTwo crashed, killing one co-pilot and leaving the other seriously injured. (The National Transportation Safety Board later attributed the crash to a co-pilot error and “failure to consider and protect against the possibility that a single human error could result in a catastrophic hazard.”) The Virgin Group, the broader conglomerate that includes the airline Virgin Atlantic and the gym Virgin Active, have also had to overcome the financial challenges of the pandemic. The space flight effort faces the question of profitability too. “There’s a limited number of people who can actually afford to do this,” Bednarek told Recode. “If you’re going to go to scale, you also have to figure out how to bring the cost down, and that’s very difficult to do.” Earlier this month, Branson said he thinks there’s enough demand for space travel for at least 20 different companies to compete in the industry. Thus far, the company says at least 600 people have made reservations for future Virgin Galactic flights, at a ticket price estimated to cost as much as $250,000. Last year, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said he thought the company could eventually bring in $1 billion a year in revenue and make spaceflight happen regularly, though he noted that the company would need more space planes and motherships to reach that goal. And even if we’re still a ways off from widespread space tourism, Branson will soon have company: In just a few days, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is scheduled to journey to space for about 11 minutes in a BlueOrigin rocket, alongside other riders, including his brother Mark Bezos and a still-unnamed auction winner who bid $28 million for a seat on the flight. From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line. pic.twitter.com/QRoufBIrUJ— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 9, 2021 SpaceX, meanwhile, is scheduled to launch its first “all-civilian” flight later this year. On board will be pilot and billionaire tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who founded the payments processor company Shift4Payments. Only a few hundred humans have been to space, but that number seems to be accelerating pretty quickly.

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posted 18 days ago on re/code
President Biden address the crowd at a Fourth of July celebration on the White House lawn. | Alex Wong/Getty Images The president’s big antitrust push could impact how much you pay for plane tickets and prescription drugs. President Biden will issue a sweeping executive order on Friday, making the case to Americans that companies from multiple industries have become too big and too powerful, and federal intervention is needed to bring competition back to the marketplace in order to drive prices down. This represents a slight shift for the Biden administration, which has lately focused its antitrust attention on Big Tech. Last month, Biden appointed tech antitrust expert Lina Khan to be the chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which, along with the Department of Justice, is responsible for enforcing antitrust laws. The order addresses several issues with major tech companies and alleged anti-competitive behavior, calling for more scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions that certain tech companies might pursue in order to remove competitors from the marketplace. The new executive order also asks the FTC to establish rules over the collection of user data, which many Big Tech companies rely on for revenue and which Congress has consistently failed to pass laws to regulate. But it can be hard to make the case that antitrust enforcement for Facebook and Google will do anything for consumers’ wallets because those services are largely free — you essentially pay for them with your data, which the companies use to do things like sell ads. And Amazon’s dominance over just about everything has come, partially, through its ability to make its prices lower than smaller businesses. People like to pay less for things, and lower prices have historically been interpreted as beneficial to the consumer. That’s basically what antitrust laws are for: to protect consumers. So now Biden is rolling out a comprehensive executive order that, among other things, makes the case for how antitrust measures will save Americans money by promoting competition and driving down prices for everything from airline fees to hearing aids. Here’s how the order, if fully implemented, can make things cheaper for you. Airline fees Biden’s executive order directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue rules requiring airlines to refund fees, when services aren’t provided or aren’t provided adequately. For example, if you pay a baggage fee and your bags are delayed, that fee would be refunded. Or if a plane’s wifi or in-flight entertainment system doesn’t work, the airline would issue some sort of refund on the ticket price. The order also directs the DOT to issue rules that airlines must clearly disclose all baggage, change, and cancellation fees to their customers. Internet bills Americans have long been forced to pay whatever the few internet service providers charge for those services, typically because they don’t have much of a choice: Most people have one or two high-speed internet options available to them, which gives their carriers little motivation to charge them less. And the prices those providers charge can vary and are often padded with hidden fees. The order will ask the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stop internet service providers from making deals with landlords that restrict tenants to only one option for an internet carrier. This will, in theory, promote competition and lower prices. The Biden administration will also push the FCC to revive its “Broadband Nutrition Label” plan. This would compel providers to explain all the different plans available to customers, all the fees associated with them, all the services customers are getting, and all the details of their final bill. These Broadband Nutrition Labels were proposed back in 2016, only to be dropped by the Trump administration’s FCC. Finally, Biden is imploring the FCC to restore net neutrality. Net neutrality, which was established by the Obama-era FCC and repealed by the Trump FCC, would prohibit carriers from charging more to access certain sites or services. It does this by classifying internet service as a “Title II” common carrier, which would subject it to regulations along the lines of a public utility. The order is ultimately trying to promote competition and transparency, and end fees designed to lock customers in. Prescription drugs Biden’s new order directs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work with states and tribal authorities to import drugs from Canada, where the same drugs are typically much cheaper than in the United States. This would, ideally, force drug manufacturers to bring down the prices they charge in the US, or at least give Americans the option to pay less for imported drugs. The order also directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support generic drugs that will give Americans cheaper options to brand-name equivalents, and come up with a plan to combat price gouging within 45 days. Finally, it asks the FTC to ban “pay for delay,” which is when drug companies pay off competitors to delay offering cheaper generic versions of their drugs once their exclusive patent ends. Hearing aids Biden is ordering HHS to issue rules that allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter, rather than forcing consumers to have an expensive (and probably unnecessary) consultation with a medical professional first — one that few health insurers will even cover. Repairs, from tractors to mobile phones The order asks the FTC to expand “right to repair” rules. Farmers and iPhone owners alike have complained that their device and equipment manufacturers have made it impossible or excessively difficult for anyone but those manufacturers to do repairs — which allows the manufacturers to set their own repair prices with no competition to drive those prices down. Products from basically any store that isn’t Amazon In what could be one of the more sweeping parts of the order, the Biden administration asks the FTC to make rules that prevent “internet marketplaces” from using their dominant position to gain an advantage over the small businesses that have to sell their wares through them. For example, Amazon can see which of another company’s products are selling well, make its own versions of those products, and then display them more prominently. This could apply to Apple as well, as its many developers have complained that its App Store is a monopoly and that Apple will see what its users want (music streaming services, for example), make its own version, and push it onto Apple device owners.

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posted 19 days ago on re/code
In Fort Lauderdale, city officials want to build a tunnel connecting the beach to the city’s downtown. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images Experts say that such a tunnel could be feasible. Fort Lauderdale is interested in using a tunnel to ease traffic on one of its busiest roads, and Elon Musk wants to build it. This week, Ford Lauderdale’s city government accepted a proposal from Musk’s urban tunnel-digging outfit, the Boring Company, to carve out an underground passageway that will deliver people from downtown to the beach via self-driving Teslas. “These cars would go from downtown Fort Lauderdale to the beach and back with a stop along Las Olas, which is our main restaurant-business boulevard,” Ben Sorensen, Fort Lauderdale’s city commissioner, told Recode. Now that the proposal has been accepted, other firms have 45 days to submit their own ideas for a tunnel. Fort Lauderdale formally accepted tonight a proposal from @elonmusk's @boringcompany to build an underground transit system between downtown and the beach. Other firms have 45 days to submit competing proposals. This could be a truly innovative way to reduce traffic congestion. pic.twitter.com/R7Bh2NPVnl— Mayor Dean J. Trantalis (@DeanTrantalis) July 7, 2021 Fort Lauderdale is just the latest place where local government officials have explored the idea of underground traffic tunnels filled with Teslas. But as other cities have struggled to get their Boring Company tunnels off (or rather, under) the ground, the beginnings of a plan to build this infrastructure in Fort Lauderdale is already raising concerns that the Boring Company’s past problems could repeat themselves — not to mention the added challenge of overcoming Florida’s rising sea levels. Regardless, Fort Lauderdale and the Boring Company are confident in the tunnel plan, which has been percolating since the end of last year, Sorensen said. Government officials have already met with engineers, visited the Boring Company’s loop in Las Vegas, and even requested state support for the project’s expansion. At the same time, the mayor has become something of an Elon fan, praising Musk and the Boring company in his newsletter. Concerns that the project is ill-advised cropped up soon after it was announced. Some fear that the tunnel might be a flood risk, given the city’s proximity to the ocean and rising sea levels spurred by climate change. Another worry is that the Boring Company has promised lower costs and faster construction times, despite engineering and tunnel industry experts saying the firm doesn’t offer any particularly novel way of building tunnels. Others have suggested that greater investment into public transportation might be a better solution to the city’s traffic congestion problem. “It’s worth investigating whether that’s feasible from a structural and engineering perspective,” Lily Elefteriadou, the director of the University of Florida’s Transportation Institute, told Recode. “From a transportation systems perspective, it makes sense to look into alternatives to get people out of private vehicles and see if that might work.” Tunnels are expensive, Elefteriadou explained, and a dedicated lane or a rail line might do the trick, depending on the land, funding available, and expected ridership. If the tunnel plan does go through, experts told Recode that water issues, including those exacerbated by climate change, will impact what kinds of features engineers will need to consider. “The designers will look at what are all the loads and situations that could conceivably exist over that 100- to 150-year time period,” said Michael Mooney, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines who focuses on underground construction and tunnels. “They’ll look at rising sea level, they’ll look at what the design-hurricane event will be, and then they’ll design accordingly.” Water problems could impact how high a tunnel’s two ends are built, and the specifics of the tunnel’s water-pumping system, Mooney added. Of course, water is not unfamiliar territory to tunnel engineers, and engineers have waterproofed tunnels in the past. Consider a nearby example: the recently constructed Port of Miami Tunnel, an undersea tunnel the city built to connect two islands off the mainland. This project also had to take into account the risks of storm surge and other water challenges. With the Fort Lauderdale tunnel, engineers will have to consider the area’s soil conditions, including sandy soil and limestone, according to University of Central Florida civil engineering professor Luis Arboleda Monsalve. “We have done all kinds of tunnels in very, very difficult ground,” Monsalve said. But there are still potential unknowns. “We have a better idea of what can happen in the next 30 years. In 100 years, there are many more uncertainties,” Shimon Wdowinski, an earth and environment professor at Florida International University, told Recode. “As everybody knows, sea level is rising.” Fort Lauderdale is not the only city in Florida whose local government is being wooed by Musk’s company. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has already spoken with Musk, and the mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, wants a road tunnel in his city too. Cars & trucks stuck in traffic generate megatons of toxic gases & particulate, but @boringcompany road tunnels under Miami would solve traffic & be an example to the world. Spoke with @RonDeSantisFL about tunnels last week. If Governor & Mayor want this done, we will do it.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 18, 2021 But there’s still reason to be skeptical. Several of the Boring Company’s tunnel proposals never took off. One plan to build a tunnel connecting Chicago’s downtown Loop and its O’Hare Airport didn’t pan out, and the company also seems to have stalled its plans to build a loop tunnel between DC and Baltimore. Meanwhile, the tunnels the Boring Company has built have yet to meet the firm’s original expectations, and the company’s test tunnel in Los Angeles was a far cry from the futuristic designs the company originally proposed. Sorensen, the Fort Lauderdale city commissioner, told Recode that the city hoped to be able to transport 4,000 people on the loop and have cars run entirely autonomously. But in the Las Vegas tunnel, self-driving cars still haven’t arrived (the Teslas are driven by humans), and, due to fire regulations, the system is still struggling to boost the loop’s capacity to 4,000. Fort Lauderdale is still waiting to see if any other companies will offer their own proposals to build this tunnel, though none have expressed interest yet. Otherwise, it seems as though the city plans to move forward, despite the concerns. “It needs to be taken into account that for 30 years, it may work, but maybe afterward not,” Wdowinski said. “This is up to the decision-maker to decide.”

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posted 20 days ago on re/code
An aerial view of a kitchen island covered with a variety of consumer goods and food. | Rani Molla/Vox What’s going on in prices, explained in words and charts. You’re not imagining it — many items are more expensive than they used to be. Some by a little, others by a lot. The United States isn’t in runaway inflation territory right now, but we’re definitely seeing some unusually pricey consumer goods. If you haven’t noticed it in your day-to-day life, you’ve at least seen it in the headlines: From flights to lumber to chicken wings, prices are higher for many goods and services across the economy. Some people are pointing to these and other price increases as signs that worrisome inflation is on the horizon, arguing that the situation could soon rival what happened in the United States in the 1970s — a period of “stagflation” when the US saw high inflation coupled with slow economic growth and high unemployment. But many economists and policymakers, including the chair of the Federal Reserve, think it’s likely transitory and that the economy might just be running a little hot right now. They say it will likely cool down as some of the post-pandemic bottlenecks and imbalances work themselves out. It looks like it’s already starting to happen in lumber. It’s also worth noting that last year we saw deflation in some areas of the economy, meaning prices went down, and so it makes sense that they would rebound. Still, the inflation debate isn’t going to resolve itself anytime soon. So what’s happening right now? Consumer prices were up 5 percent from the previous year in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, which looks at prices for goods across the economy to get an idea of inflation. It’s a level of increase we haven’t seen since 2008, and one that we’ve only seen a handful of times since the early 1980s. Typically, the Fed targets a 2 percent inflation rate over the long term, though inflation has actually been running below that in recent years. Prices went up by 0.6 percent in May alone. It’s quite a break from recent history: In the years following the Great Recession, the question many economists have been asking themselves is why inflation was so low. What’s perhaps more interesting than the topline number, though, is what’s underneath it. Sometimes, major price increases or decreases in one specific area can sort of throw the overall picture out of whack. (That’s why you hear people talk about “core” inflation, meaning prices excluding food and energy, which can be volatile because of factors like weather and oil supply.) Recently, one area is causing a stir: used cars, whose price went up 7.3 percent in May, after going up 10 percent in April. Used car prices are now up nearly 30 percent since last year. If you take them out of the equation, the situation can look a little bit different. To be sure, used cars aren’t the only story. The prices of plenty of items have crept up over the past year. Gas prices are up significantly over the past year due to a variety of factors including higher oil prices, a shortage of truck drivers, and a big increase in demand as people start driving and flying again. Gas prices fell significantly at the start of the pandemic, too, which is part of what makes the current increase seem so eye-popping. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-uBxQD");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-uBxQD");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() Your overall life might be a little more expensive right now The price of the stuff we buy changes all the time for a variety of factors, from supply chain issues to our changing habits. The pandemic, of course, meant a disruption in supply chains and habits. All of a sudden, millions of Americans were stuck at home, hoarding toilet paper and clearing grocery store shelves. Items we might have once purchased at restaurants, we tried to recreate at home with ingredients from the supermarket. And it became increasingly important to give our homes, where we spent a disproportionate amount of our time, an update to make them more livable. Our demand led to shortages in everything from pasta to couches. Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the supply side as well, as the virus spread among employees at meat plants and garment factories alike. To look at what’s happened to prices for a number of goods, we assembled our own little shopping basket. For the most part, prices went up, according to consumer price data from NielsenIQ, which tracks US checkout prices at a wide variety of retailers, as well as supplementary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. After toilet paper became readily available and people stopped stockpiling it as much, its price only rose about 3 percent from last year. Staples like milk and bread rose just slightly, 1.6 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, some prices rose dramatically. As mentioned, used car prices are up nearly 30 percent, due to supply chain disruptions in the new car market, including a global shortage of semiconductor computer chips. Prices for some fruits, like strawberries and blueberries, are up 27 and 16 percent, respectively, as demand for the fruits surged during the pandemic and outpaced supply. Produce prices are always subject to high volatility since there are so many variables with planting and harvesting. The cost of kitchen and living room furniture, due to a mix of supply chain bottlenecks and demand to fix up our personal spaces during the pandemic, is up about 10 percent since last year. Dog treat prices are up 5 percent, perhaps as a result of increased demand from the large number of pet adoptions during lockdown. Takeout prices were up 6 percent. While the price changes of cheese varied widely by type (Brie down 6 percent, cheddar up 0.4 percent), overall the average unit price of cheese rose about 4 percent in the past year. That growth reflects the fact that many people bought more premium cheeses at home since they couldn’t get them out, according to NielsenIQ. There were a few notable exceptions where prices actually declined since last year. The average cost per unit of flour and yeast, the ingredients to make last year’s ubiquitous homemade bread, fell 1 percent and 4 percent respectively. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting less expensive, but rather that people are more likely to wait for sales than they were in spring 2020, when, if people could find staples in stock, they’d buy them regardless of price. Similarly, the price of eggs went down 4 percent. Prices for hard seltzer, the unofficial summer drink of 2019, declined nearly 6 percent, perhaps reflecting the increased selection available, with everyone from Budweiser to Topo Chico getting in on the action. Rani Molla Lumber mania: An update One of the biggest price surge stories of the year thus far has been lumber. (Vox has a full explainer on it here.) The lumber industry struggled in the years following the Great Recession, and production slowed accordingly. When Covid-19 hit, many in the industry assumed that the situation was only about to get worse, so they dialed back production even more. In the case of many mills and yards, economic shutdowns wouldn’t let them work anyway. “They really dialed back, thinking that demand would fall, and the reality is that demand never slowed,” Dustin Jalbert, senior economist and lumber industry specialist at Fastmarkets RISI, told Vox in the spring. It turns out lots of people stuck at home had the same idea to undertake home renovation and remodeling projects. They built out decks and garages and offices and found ways to make the houses they were stuck in 24/7 more pleasant. Others went looking for new homes, snapping up preexisting ones and starting to build. The supply-demand imbalance threw much of the industry out of whack, and lumber prices soared. In the summer of 2019, 1,000 board feet of lumber (one board foot is 12x12x1 inches) out of a sawmill would have run somewhere in the $300 range, according to data from Fastmarket Random Lengths. In May, the same amount of wood was going for more than $1,500 at some points. Now prices have begun to come down, falling back below $1,000. It could be a sign that the supply chain is starting to balance itself out and that the demand side, in the face of high prices, has taken a breath that’s allowed some of the supply side to catch up. !function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}});window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded',function(){var i=document.createElement("iframe");var e=document.getElementById("datawrapper-NB9i6");var t=e.dataset.iframeTitle||'Interactive graphic';i.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.iframe);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("frameborder","0");i.setAttribute("scrolling","no");i.setAttribute("aria-label",e.dataset.iframeFallbackAlt||t);i.setAttribute("title",t);i.setAttribute("height","400");i.setAttribute("id","datawrapper-chart-NB9i6");i.style.minWidth="100%";i.style.border="none";e.appendChild(i)})}() This is what some economists say is likely to happen across the economy as some of the post-pandemic kinks get worked out. The supply side will catch up with the demand side as supply chains normalize, and in some cases, pent-up demand will ease, too. “The prices that are driving that higher inflation are from categories that are being directly affected by the recovery from the pandemic and the reopening of the economy,” Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell said at a press conference in June. He specifically invoked lumber: “The thought is that prices like that have moved up really quickly because of the shortages and bottlenecks and the like. They should stop going up and at some point, in some cases should actually go down. And we did see that in the case of lumber.” The big question mark right now is how long this will last There is no denying that some prices are rising at a quicker clip than they have in recent years; the big unknown right now is how long this will go on. The Fed and the White House are betting that the current level of inflation is transitory, meaning this is a temporary bump as the economy rebounds from the pandemic, and soon things will settle back down. In testimony before Congress in June, Powell laid out the factors contributing to recent inflation increases, including falling prices at the start of the pandemic, supply bottlenecks, the pass-through of oil and energy prices, and increased consumer spending accompanying reopening. “I will say that these effects have been larger than we expected, and they may turn out to be more persistent than we’ve expected, but the incoming data are very much consistent with the view that these are factors that will wane over time and then inflation will then move down toward our goals,” he said. The personal consumption expenditure (PCE) price index, which the Fed uses as its main gauge of inflation, ticked up slightly less in May than economists expected, which could be a signal that the pace of price increases is slowing. However, it’s too early to tell. The big fear among some economists is that the US will see a repeat of the 1970s, when the country saw a sustained period of high inflation that was only brought to an end when the Fed took harsh measures and pushed the economy into a recession in the early 1980s. If inflation takes off and jobs and wages don’t go with it, then everyday items can become prohibitively expensive for many people. In the ’70s, for example, beef became super pricey. Sustained inflation can also reduce the value of savings. Some more extreme corners even warn that the US could see runaway hyperinflation like what’s happened in places such as Argentina and Venezuela, where the value of their currencies has declined rapidly and it’s nearly impossible for people’s paychecks to keep up with skyrocketing prices. Amid those concerns, it’s important to remember that the Fed is paying attention to inflation. If the economy really doesn’t settle down, the Fed has tools to fight it, such as raising interest rates. Fed officials have already moved up their expected timeline for increasing interest rates to 2023 from 2024, though forecasts can always change. It’s understandable to worry about inflation — a scenario where prices go up and paychecks don’t isn’t one the country wants to see. But is it time to start hoarding gold under your mattress? Probably not. That post-pandemic vacation you wanted to take is probably going to run you a little more than you thought it would, at least for now. The good news is, compared to a year ago, it’s much safer in the US to take a vacation at all.

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posted 20 days ago on re/code
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is co-leading a new antitrust lawsuit against Google | Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images Dozens of attorneys general filed a suit accusing Google’s Play store of anticompetitive practices. Attorneys general from 36 states and one district are suing Google for alleged anticompetitive practices — this time, over its Google Play app store. The suit turns up the heat on Big Tech companies, which are also facing a growing pile of antitrust suits, fending off bipartisan antitrust legislation from the House of Representatives, and preparing for more intense scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission now that it’s headed by antitrust expert and Big Tech critic Lina Khan. The new suit filed on Wednesday accuses Google of making it difficult for app developers to distribute Android apps anywhere besides its Google Play store, where they are subject to rules and fees that benefit Google. It also says that Google has or has tried to make agreements with Android device manufacturers like Samsung and mobile network operators like Verizon to preload Google apps on their devices and to not open their own competing app stores. The suit alleges that Google also discourages Android device owners from using other app stores by showing them warning messages that say apps from those stores could contain malware, and by forcing users to bypass confusing security messages when they try to download apps not from the Play Store. These practices, the suit alleges, make it exceedingly difficult for companies to compete with the Play store and hurt consumers and companies alike — except, of course, for Google. “Once again, we are seeing Google use its dominance to illegally quash competition and profit to the tune of billions,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “Through its illegal conduct, the company has ensured that hundreds of millions of Android users turn to Google, and only Google, for the millions of applications they may choose to download to their phones and tablets. Worse yet, Google is squeezing the lifeblood out of millions of small businesses that are only seeking to compete. We are filing this lawsuit to end Google’s illegal monopoly power and finally give voice to millions of consumers and business owners.” James and the attorneys general of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah are the co-leads on the case, which is joined by 32 other states and Washington DC. Google did not immediately respond to request for comment. The suit expresses complaints similar to those that have been lobbed against Apple’s App Store, which is being investigated by European regulators and was the subject of a still undecided lawsuit from Epic Games. Developers must go through the App Store and agree to its terms of service to put their apps on Apple’s mobile devices, and they must also give Apple a considerable cut of subscription fees and in-app purchases. Google has avoided some of this scrutiny because it is possible to download certain apps on Android devices without going through Google Play. Now it seems that most of the attorneys general in the US are trying to make the case that that’s not good enough. Google’s attorneys will be very busy for the foreseeable future. The company was sued in 2020 by 38 state attorneys general (co-led by James) over anticompetitive practices in its search results and search ads; the Department of Justice had filed a similar suit that year as well. Ten state attorneys general also filed an anti-competition lawsuit last year over Google’s ad tech practices. Those lawsuits are winding their way through the courts, but there is a possible bright spot for Google: Antitrust complaints against fellow tech giant Facebook filed by 48 state attorneys general (co-led by — you guessed it — James) and the FTC were dismissed at the end of June, with a judge saying that the attorneys generals’ complaint came too late and that the FTC’s didn’t establish that Facebook was a monopoly. The FTC can re-file an amended complaint within 30 days. But even if this complaint ends the same way the attorneys generals’ complaint against Facebook did, Google will not be out of the woods. Many legislators and regulators are itching to take on Big Tech over antitrust concerns. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who has made antitrust enforcement and breaking up Big Tech one of her main issues, issued a statement on Wednesday evening applauding the latest lawsuit and warning that antitrust actions wouldn’t stop there. “I commend these Attorneys General for taking action,” she said. “The case for sweeping antitrust reform is clear, and I will continue to fight in Washington to reinvigorate competition policy so our economy can thrive and consumers can get the fair treatment they deserve.”

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posted 20 days ago on re/code
Some Black creators are frustrated with how the app seemingly flagged phrases about Black people as inappropriate, which the company says was an error in its hate speech detection system. | Photo Illustration by Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images TikTok says it’s fixing an error that caused its algorithms to flag BLM content, but some Black creators are still frustrated. “This is why I’m pissed the fuck off. We’re tired,” said a popular Black influencer Ziggi Tyler in a recent viral video on TikTok. “Anything Black-related is inappropriate content,” he continued later in the video. @ziggityler #greenscreenvideo I’m going live in 30 minutes to answer questions. Y’all need to get this message out. Please. #fypシ #fyp #wrong #justice ♬ original sound - Ziggi Tyler Tyler was expressing his frustration with TikTok about a discovery he made while editing his bio in the app’s Creator Marketplace, which connects popular account holders with brands who pay them to promote products or services. Tyler noticed that when he typed phrases about Black content in his Marketplace creator bio, such as “Black Lives Matter” or “Black success,” the app flagged his content as “inappropriate.” But when he typed in phrases like “white supremacy” or “white success,” he received no such warning. For Tyler and many of his followers, the incident seemed to fit within a larger pattern of how Black content is moderated on social media. They said it was evidence of what they believe is the app’s racial bias against Black people — and some urged their followers to leave the app, while others tagged TikTok’s corporate account and demanded answers. Tyler’s original video about the incident has received over 1.2 million views and over 25,000 comments; his follow up video has received another nearly 1 million views. “I’m not going to sit here and let that happen,” Tyler, a 23-year-old recent college graduate from Chicago, told Recode. “Especially on a platform that makes all these pages saying things like, ‘We support you, it’s Black history month in February.’” A spokesperson for TikTok told Recode that the issue was an error with its hate speech detection systems that it is actively working to resolve, and that it is not indicative of racial bias. TikTok’s policies do not restrict posting about Black Lives Matter, according to a spokesperson. In this instance, TikTok told Recode that the app is mistakenly flagging phrases like “Black Lives Matter” because its hate speech detector is triggered by a combination of words involving the words “Black” and “audience” — because “audience” contains the word “die” in it. “Our TikTok Creator Marketplace protections, which flag phrases typically associated with hate speech, were erroneously set to flag phrases without respect to word order,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We recognize and apologize for how frustrating this was to experience, and our team is working quickly to fix this significant error. To be clear, Black Lives Matter does not violate our policies and currently has over 27B views on our platform.” TikTok says it has reached out to Tyler directly, and that he hasn’t responded. But Tyler said he didn’t find TikTok’s explanation to Recode to be adequate, and that he felt the company should have identified an issue in its hate speech detection system sooner. “Regardless of what the algorithm is and how it picked up, somebody had to program that algorithm,” Tyler told Recode. “And if [the problem] is the algorithm, and the marketplace has been available since [2020], why wasn’t this a conversation you had with your team, knowing there have been racial controversies?” he asked. Tyler isn’t alone in his frustration — he’s just one of many Black creators who have been protesting TikTok recently because they say they are unrecognized and underserved. Many of these Black TikTokers are participating in what they’re calling the “#BlackTikTok Strike,” in which they are refusing to make up original dances to a hit song — because they are angry that Black artists on the app are not being properly credited for the viral dances that they first choreograph and that other creators imitate. These issues also connect to another criticism that’s been leveled at TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms over the years: That their algorithms, which recommend and filter the posts everyone sees, often have inherent racial and gender biases. In 2019, a study showed that leading AI models for detecting hate speech are 1.5 times more likely to flag tweets written by African Americans as “offensive” compared to other tweets, for example. Findings like those have fostered an ongoing debate about the merits and potential harms that come with relying on algorithms – particularly developing AI models — to automatically detect and moderate social media posts. Major social media companies like TikTok, Google, Facebook, and Twitter — though they acknowledge that these algorithmic models can be flawed — are still making them a key part of their rapidly expanding hate speech detection systems. They say they need a less labor-intensive way to keep up with the ever-expanding volume of content on the internet. Tyler’s TikTok video also shows the tensions surrounding these apps’ lack of transparency about how they police content. In June 2020 during Black Lives Matter protests across the US, some activists accused TikTok of censoring certain popular #BlackLivesMatter posts — which for a time the app showed as having zero views even when they had billions of views. TikTok denied this and said it was a technical glitch affecting other hashtags as well. And in late 2019, TikTok executives were reportedly discussing tamping down political discussion on the app, according to Forbes, to avoid political controversy. A spokesperson for TikTok acknowledged larger frustrations about Black representation on TikTok and said that earlier this month, the company launched an official @BlackTikTok account to help foster the Black TikTok community on the platform — and that overall, its teams are committed to developing recommendation systems that reflect inclusivity and diversity. But for Tyler, the company has a lot more work to do. “This instance is just the tip of the iceberg and underneath the water level you have all of these issues,” said Tyler.

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