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The FCC Wants To Give Carriers The Power To Block Text Messages But Thousands Of People Are Against It

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Thousands of people sent letters to FCC to oppose the decision to give carriers more power over text messages.

Thousands of users have sent letters of opposition to the decision made by the Federal Communication Commission that would allow telecom companies to block or charge certain group messages differently, in a move that has triggered grassroots response questioning the FCC’s anti-consumer policies.

In essence, the decision of the FCC gives mobile carriers the ability to block or charge senders more for certain messages. The decision was first made on December 2018 and critics have claimed that the real issue in the policy that gives more power to telecom companies over text messaging is a free-speech issue that could negatively impact activists and non-profit organizations.

Previously, eight senators opposing the decision wrote a letter to the office of Ajit Pai, the chair of the agency that is tasked to regulate telecommunications. According to the letter, the controversial decision would have a negative impact on advocacy groups because “carriers could force businesses, advocacy organizations, first responders, doctors, and many others” to pay more to reach their audiences via text messages.

The FCC, in an attempt to sugarcoat the impact of the decision, neatly framed the announcement of its decision, reclassifying SMS and MMS as “information services” rather than “telecommunication services” like phone calls, as a benefit to consumers, claiming that the policy will better protect consumers from robo-texting and spamming.

While robo-texts and text spams are genuinely a problem that the FCC needs to resolve as it is the worst form of telecommunication harassment, giving wireless broadband service providers more powers over text messages (primarily that the new policy does not provide any guarantee for counterchecking) is a dangerous slope for the agency to slide into.

As a response, Public Knowledge’s attorney John Bergmeyer filed a petition for reconsideration on behalf of his organization to pressure the FCC to overturn its decision over the new policy and push back on its plan to give carriers more powers over text messaging services. Public Knowledge is an internet rights group that has been fighting for internet neutrality and freedom of information.

Tuesday marks the last day for members of the public to sign the petition and write to the FCC in support of the Public Knowledge. In addition to Public Knowledge and the eight senators who publicly expressed their opposition to the decision by Ajit Pai’s office, 20 more groups and non-profits including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote a group letter to oppose the new policy.

In December, they said that “based on numerous incidents in the past, we fear that permitting carriers to block messages without any oversight will result in censoring time-critical speech, hamper efforts to organize political engagement, and severely restrict the ability of civil rights organizations, and other non-commercial organizations to use texting platforms to their full capacity.”

The decision of the FCC to give more power to carriers is not the only controversy being faced by the agency in recent years. Previously, the commission was heavily slammed over their move that would hamper net neutrality. Many people opposing the net neutrality revocation expressed their opposition to the policy through the online commenting system. The comments came in huge waves paralyzing the system altogether for a while.

Speaking of the online commenting system and net neutrality: the agency has also been criticized for refusing to grant Freedom of Information Act requests by journalists and lawmakers over the alleged identity theft that has happened in the comment system of the organization during the net neutrality revocation. Recently, the agency was ordered by the court to pay a hefty amount of money to a journalist who filed a lawsuit against FCC over violations of the FOIA, but the trial has not forced the agency to produce the requested documents.

In an earlier report, the FCC has also been in hot water after it was revealed that the agency was only able to collect $6,000 out of the $200 million in fines it issued against companies and businesses who robocalls. In recent times, the FCC and its chief Ajit Pai have been repeatedly called out for their inability to end the robocall epidemic that has been terrorizing American households. In response, many telecom companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have vowed to release features that would potentially block robocallers and auto-dialed calls.

A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

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[Breaking] Democrats Move To Ban Big Techs From Issuing Digital Money

The bill is bluntly named as “Keep Big Tech Out Of Finance Act”

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Photo: Christoph Scholz | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Facebook’s announcement of its biggest financial venture called Libra has prompted multisectoral discussion among tech companies, banking, and financial ecosystem, as well as government and regulatory official regarding the effect of cryptocurrency and digital money on the global economy.

The polarized discussion has seen lawmakers and executives on the opposite side of the poles arguing the harms of allowing tech giants like Facebook to issue currencies that have the potential of disrupting banking systems around the world.

Some say that it is on its way to a full-blown legal and social battle between regulators and the tech stratosphere. Some even suggest that this war has already begun.

A new draft proposal for the bill, bluntly named as “Keep Big Tech Out Of Finance Act,” that circulates among Democrats majority that leads the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, proves that the US government is not joking about its position against Libra and other similar ventures in the future.

According to the proposed bill, no tech company should be allowed to issue any form of financial services. “A large platform utility may not establish, maintain, or operate a digital asset that is intended to be widely used as a medium of exchange, unit of account, store of value, or any other similar function, as defined by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System,” reads a copy of the bill obtained by Z6Mag.

Furthermore, while the bill does not specify any company, it clearly refers to Facebook, and it’s planned blockchain-based currency, Libra. The “large platform utility” is defined as a technology company with “an annual global revenue of $25,000,000,000 or more” and one that is “predominately engaged in the business of offering to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties.” This definition seems to be crafted to include Facebook rather than exclude other companies.

It is also worth noting that the proposed legislation also prohibits “large platform utilities” from affiliation with “persons who are a financial institution.” This further includes Facebook’s proactive workaround against possible future laws that may prohibit them from owning Libra.

Libra is actually not owned by Facebook. Instead, it is governed by a group of companies that are based in Switzerland called the Libra Association with Facebook as one of its founding members.

Nonetheless, the bill is still on its earliest phase yet, and many could happen to move forward. For it to become a law, it still has to withstand the possible opposition by Republicans in both the House and the Senate.

But it seems like the bill has an unlikely ally in the person of Donald Trump as the new proposal came out after Trump criticized cryptocurrencies.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, the POTUS said that he is not a “fan” of cryptocurrencies, asserted that America has only one currency, criticized bitcoin, as well as told Facebook that they need a banking charter if they want to launch their newly announced crypto-based money called Libra.

Trump said cryptocurrencies are not money, and “Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity.”

“If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations,” said the president.

According to the President, the dollar is the only currency in America, and Libra, among other cryptocurrencies, are not “real money.”

“We have only one real currency in the USA, and it is stronger than ever, both dependable and reliable. It is by far the most dominant currency anywhere in the World, and it will always stay that way. It is called the United States Dollar!” Trump said in a tweet.

Trump’s sentiments echoed similar apprehensions from cryptocurrency critics who have been advocating against the growth of the “volatile” blockchain technology and crypto money. Many argue that those attributes count against the wider adoption of digital currencies.

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Ireland To Investigate Google’s Potential Data Breach

They are “looking into it.”

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Photo: Paul Robertson | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Ireland’s data protection regulating body is set to investigate the potential data breach in Google, following the confirmation from the tech superpower that their employees are listening to the recordings taken from their Smart Home speakers.

The Data Protection Commission in Ireland is set to look into the possibility of Google violating the privacy and data protection of users after admitting having linguistics experts listen to “anonymous” recordings taken from their smart speakers.

Google listens to smart home speaker recordings

According to Google, linguistics experts are listening to “snippets” of recordings made by users to improve the device’s artificial intelligence for voice recognition technology used in their smart home systems and smartphones. Nonetheless, they clarified that the tapes were randomly snipped and are unnamed.

After Ireland’s data privacy agency was made aware of the reports on Thursday, a spokesperson said that they would be “looking into it.” It is, however, unclear at this point if any Irish customers were affected by the potential violation of consumer privacy.

“We received a breach notification from Google on Thursday evening in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and we are currently assessing the information we have,” Spokesperson for the Commission, Graham Doyle said.

The smart speaker from Google understands and responds to voice commands given to it, answering queries about the news and weather, as well as being able to control other internet-connected devices around the home.

In a statement released by the search engine and smart device tycoon, Google reveals that its experts transcribed a small number of anonymous recordings, and an investigation has been launched following the controversial Dutch tape recordings that were leaked in the recent months.

“We partner with language experts around the world to improve speech technology by transcribing a small set of queries – this work is critical to developing technology that powers products like the Google Assistant,” Google said.

“Language experts only review around 0.2% of all audio snippets, and these snippets are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process.”

The statement continued: “We just learned that one of these reviewers had violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data.”

“Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again,” they added.

Data breach plagues smart home manufacturers

Similarly, earlier reports have tagged a similar system released by Amazon, Alexa, to have been listening to the recordings made by their users in their smart home devices. Amazon admits the process and justified it in the same manner as Google, citing its role in the development and improvement of artificial intelligence.

Privacy campaigners claimed it was a “data protection disaster waiting to happen.”

Privacy concerns are not only limited to smart home speakers. Last week, Chinese smart home devices manufacturer Orvibo suffered a data breach that exposed the exact geolocation of their users through their device’s GPS.

Google and other tech companies “cannot be trusted”

The announcement of Google’s potential data breach follows the recent report that the majority of Americans do not trust Facebook and Google. The recent poll conducted by McLaughlin and Associate revealed that 76.7% of conservative America does not trust Facebook and Google to be unbiased and to treat everyone equal. The survey asked respondents several questions to understand their perception and their opinions towards Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google, Youtube, and Twitter.

And the results for the overall trustworthiness perception of tech companies isn’t far from the results from conservative respondents. Of all the respondents, around 63.4 percent of them said that Facebook and Google could not be trusted to treat all its users equally.

The results, which also revealed that conservatives also don’t trust Google, came following a crucial “bias” issue that the tech giant is facing. 62.9 percent of conservative respondents saying they do not believe the company treats users equally, while nearly half of the respondents polled in general — 47.9 percent — agreed that Google is untrustworthy.

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More Than Half Of Facebook Employees Are White Men; Claims They’ve Come A Long Way In Terms Of Diversity

Less than 10% of their employees are Hispanics, Blacks, and Mixed Race.

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Photo: Robert Scoble | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Hispanic, Black, and Mixed Race combined only comprise less than 10% of Facebook’s workforce that is dominated by Whites and Asians; their annual diversity report reveals.

According to the Facebook 2019 Diversity Report, published June 9th, 2019, there are 44.2% and 43% Whites and Asians working on Facebook. Aggregately, the two demographic profile comprise 97% of all of Facebook’s employees. Furthermore, only 5.2% are Hispanics, and only 3.8% are Blacks.

Furthermore, the report also reveals a disproportionate number of men working for the San Francisco-based company as compared to women. In the said report, Facebook claims that across all roles, 63.1% are men, while only 36.9% are women. The numbers are similar for their senior leadership, that is comprised of 67.4% of men and only 32.6% of women.

The only department where women outnumber men is the Business and Sales department having 57.2% women and 42.8% men.

According to Facebook, the company had a long way of improving its workforce diversity. In 2014, for example, more than half of Facebook’s employees are White Men, and women occupy only a quarter of the senior leadership positions.

“Over the last six years, we have worked hard to make our commitment to diversity and inclusion more than just sound bites. Our company has grown a lot. So has our approach,” Facebook said in a press release.

“We are more focused than ever on creating a diverse workforce and supporting our people. They are the ones building better products and serving the communities on our platforms.”

Facebook has assigned departments and committees to improve the company’s diversity policy and allow a more inclusive business and working environment among their employees.

“Lauryn, Director of Education Partnerships, brings people together to learn more about computer science and programming through Facebook-led initiatives, such as TechPrep and CodeFwd, and partnerships with organizations like CodePath.org, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Jason, Head of Supplier Diversity, ensures that our supply chain, from the cafe, produce data center construction and global event production, is both diverse and inclusive,” reads the report.

The global tech giant also highlights the importance of design in fostering diversity within its workspace.

“Our design choices are important, too. Designing for inclusivity leads to better decisions and better products. Ian, Director of Design at Instagram, has relied on diverse teams to build the best products throughout his career in the US and now in Japan. It’s also vital to be increasingly intentional not just about what we design, but how. We are committed to the ethical design and responsible innovation in tech. Margaret, VP of Product Design, insists on diverse perspectives and a broad view of social and political contexts informing how we design,” they added.

” Facebook Resource Groups are building community and supporting professional development while programs like Managing Bias, Managing Inclusion, Be the Ally Circles, Managing a Respectful Workplace, and Efficacy Training build everyone’s skills.”

Facebook’s programs for diversification of its workplace also extends to people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“We are also committed to disability inclusion and are particularly proud of our top score and naming as a “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion” by the Disability Equality Index. We have expanded our disability and inclusion recruiting efforts globally to provide more opportunity for job satisfaction and advancement, and we have launched new initiatives,” they said.

“Our commitment to and support of the LGBTQ+ community is unwavering. We’re proud to have earned 100% on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) 2019 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and the designation as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality. This is the fifth year in a row that we have received the best score. The HRC recognition reflects the hard work that this community and its allies across the company do to make LGBTQ+ inclusion a priority for the people at Facebook and on our platform around the world. About 8% of US-based Facebook employees identify as LGBTQ+, based on a voluntary survey.”

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