TikTok Is China’s Trojan Horse

People are easy to dupe.  Give us something for free and we will open the door to just about anything in return, including our most sensitive family, health, and financial information. 

The ancient Greeks knew something about the human psyche when they built a massive wooden horse and put it outside the enemy gates at Troy.  Unsuspecting Trojans marveled at the gift and ushered it inside unexamined.  Hidden in the horse were the Greek men of war who emerged to sack the city. 

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A Third-Way Approach to Regulating Facial Recognition Systems

The use of facial recognition systems powered by algorithms and software continues to raise controversy given their potential use by law enforcement and other government agencies.  For over a decade, the Department of Commerce’s National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has evaluated facial recognition to identify and report gaps in its capabilities.  Its most recent report in 2019 quantified the effect of age, race, and sex on facial recognition accuracy.

The greatest discrepancies that NIST measured were higher false-positive rates in women, African Americans, and particularly African American women.  It noted, “False positives might present a security concern to the system owner, as they may allow access to impostors.  False positives also might present privacy and civil rights and civil liberties concerns such as when matches result in additional questioning, surveillance, errors in benefit adjudication, or loss of liberty.”

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Big Tech Must Self-Regulate To Protect Public Safety

In a single swipe, Twitter and Facebook have done what the U.S. government and the Constitution could not: delete the power of an irreverent president to rile and rally Americans to violent action.

Twitter announced Jan. 8 that it permanently suspended Trump’s account, while Facebook announced Jan. 7 it had suspended Trump’s account indefinitely. 

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Can Big Tech Be Reined In by Rules It Consistently Breaks?

Well informed observers of the tech industry have cautioned against two things: economic downturn and government regulation.  Each had a palpable sense of the inevitable – not a matter of if, but when.  As we enter 2020, the conditions for both are present, if not altogether ripe.

Dire predictions of a global recession have been hovering over the economy for several quarters.  But low interest rates, strong consumer spending, and investor confidence have kept the economy buoyant.  The new China trade deal and record-high NASDAQ belie economic woes.

If this election year turns out like others, the economy will hum along through the first two quarters, then decelerate as we head into November.  If an economic slowdown were to occur, it would owe as much to politics as to recessionary pressure.  And even that might recede if the president gets re-elected.

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The Price of Privacy on the Potomac

In case you haven’t noticed, privacy – meaning the protection of your personal data and information – is all the rage today.  In fact, privacy has become very big business not only in America, but also in Europe, where the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) mandated sweeping privacy protections for consumers and strict restrictions on how companies can use personal information and data. 

Doing business in this new era of privacy comes at a price, mostly for compliance.  Compounding this is the lack of clear rules in the U.S. where there remains no comprehensive federal privacy law.  It is no wonder that many companies have come to the privacy table kicking and screaming, forced to abide by a growing patchwork of inconsistent state laws with no federal preemption in place.

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Campaign To Break Big Tech Is Regulatory Overkill

When Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) first went on the warpath against big banks, she captured the attention of middle America.  Now, Warren has turned her wrath on Big Tech.  Her mantra is that big companies are bad, and the bigger the badder they are for all of us.  The government, she argues, should step up its regulation of these companies and step in to break them up if necessary.  Not only is Warren wrong but she is also out of step with most Americans today.

It would be unfair to lay all the blame on Warren for the campaign against big corporations.  This sort of populism has been a strain in American politics since the Revolution, and most recently since the Occupy Wall Street campaign.  But today’s anti-corporate movement has a new look and a new lexicon, including terms like privacy, net neutrality, and transparency, to accompany the typical notions of competition and consumer protection.

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Reflections on the Sale of the Washington Post

Much is being said, almost all of it guesswork, about why Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, what he plans to do with it, and what it all means.  Some argue it’s just a kind of trophy purchase, others that it was done to gain political influence, for Mr. Bezos and/or Amazon, in the Nation’s Capital.

Still others see in the purchase a path leading to a future in which important elements of the news media are nonprofit entities, either by design or in consequence of operations that, while unprofitable, are subsidized by owners with deep pockets.

I would guess, and hope, that all of these speculations are false.  The more likely reason that Mr. Bezos bought the Post is because he suspects he can operate it, using the tools of the new technologies, at a profit.  That by doing so he would also, serendipitously, save professional journalism may be a by-product of his purchase, whether it’s part of his motivation or not.

In 2000, The Media Institute gave Mr. Bezos its Free Speech Award, largely in recognition of the global reach of his book selling operation, sometimes over the objections of local governments.  In his acceptance speech, Mr. Bezos talked at length about the path he and his wife had followed in the creation and growth of Amazon, and the picture that emerged was not that of a politician or a philanthropist.

Instead, Mr. Bezos came across as an ambitious, disciplined, and hard-charging businessman.  (That same year, the Institute gave its other annual award to Robert Johnson, founder of BET, and I have often thought how similar the two men are.)

To put it another way, I think Mr. Bezos has too much self respect, and too little ego, to have purchased the Post either as a kind of grandstanding event, the better to aggrandize himself or Amazon, or to stand by and subsidize indefinitely a financially failing company.

After all, if news organizations are not created to make a profit, what are the standards of success or failure?  The idea that nonprofit status produces a more value-free product is belied by the reality that most philanthropists operating in the realm of the media have decided political views, a la the Knight Foundation, ProPublica, Open Society Institute, etc.

Going forward, there is one thing I would recommend to the gentleman: that he insist that the editors and reporters at the Post understand how important it is that the media be a watchdog on government. After all, if the media are not a check on government, who is?  If the only role of the media is to deliver eyeballs to advertisers, the media wouldn’t deserve a First Amendment and the Founders wouldn’t have produced one.

Which is not to say that the Post is in all ways politically or ideologically one dimensional.  As contrasted with the New York Times, where the right-leaning Ross Douthat toils away in solitary isolation, the Post’s editorial page features lots of conservative columnists.

The problem so defined is not in the editorial pages but in the news pages – the paper’s breaking, feature, and investigative reports.  No subject better illustrates this point than the paper’s coverage of the ruinous, not to say corrupt, fiscal antics of Congress and the Administration.

Perhaps the greatest threat not just to the financial health but to the very security of this country’s citizens is the growth of government, and of the corresponding governmental debt, at the federal, state, and local levels. Nor is this a new development. It’s been going on for years and the Washington Post has looked right past the kind of things that, were they done in the private sector, would yield indictments and incarceration.

There are things to admire in the Washington Post, and it’s to be expected that Mr. Bezos would not come out with early comments of concern about the editorial product there.  But if he cares about the promotion of excellence in journalism, and would like to add conservatives and Republicans to the newspaper’s admirers, this is something he ought to put in his cart.

                                               

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.