The Technology 202: TikTok’s future is uncertain as backlash mounts in Washington

Technology

Trump, who previously pushed for a full sale of the TikTok service to an American company and threatened to otherwise ban the service, added that he expects to be briefed today on the proposal to make Oracle TikTok’s “trusted technology partner.”

“It has to be 100 percent as far as national security is concerned, and no, I’m not prepared to sign off on anything,” Trump said. “I have to see the deal.” 

The proximity to Nov. 3 makes it a toss-up whether Trump will seek a tough line on China – or compromise and call it a win. 

The key question is whether the deal proposed earlier this week to outsource data management to Oracle would do enough to address national security concerns that ByteDance could share Americans’ data with the Chinese government. 

Top administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have raised concerns about such an arrangement, according to Bloomberg. And behind the scenes, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and other officials are pushing for a deal that would give American investors a majority stake in the company that takes over TikTok, the Wall Street Journal reports. 

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters yesterday that the administration is continuing to review the deal and will “make sure the interests of the American people is protected.”

Lawmakers from both parties are also scrutinizing the deal terms. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) led Senate Republicans in writing a letter raising concerns about the deal. Rubio emerged as one of the app’s first critics and called upon the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency organization, to open an investigation into the company’s practices. 

“As this deal appears to fall short of a full acquisition, serious questions remain with regard to Oracle’s role in TikTok’s U.S. operations, the type of technology Oracle will be providing ByteDance, and the question of what will happen to the crucial algorithms, which make the application function,” the senators wrote. 

Republican Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and John Cornyn (Texas) also signed the letter.

Rubio tweeted this morning that he had had “informative” discussions with the companies about the plans.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has called on the U.S. government to reject the deal.

Democrats have raised concerns about Oracle’s role.

“I’m waiting to see all the details, but it’s hard to imagine this is anything but a payoff from China to one of Donald Trump’s major campaign fundraisers,” Wyden said Tuesday. “Making Oracle a middleman won’t protect Americans against Chinese government influence, and to make matters worse, Oracle has an awful record of harvesting and selling Americans’ private data to anyone with a credit card.” 

Sen. Mark Warner, (D-Va.), said in a speech yesterday that any scrutiny of technology players “must be done honestly.” He warned that the “haphazard actions on TikTok fail that test and will only invite retaliation against American companies.”

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Google is asking employees to more closely moderate internal message boards for racism and abuse. 

The company saw an increase in posts by employees being reported, according to internal documents obtained by Jennifer Elias at CNBC. Google attributed the rise in tensions to increased sharing as employees work from home and the current political and social climate. 

“It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that there has been content on our platforms that reinforce negative racial stereotypes, used harmful gendered phrases, or insulted Googlers based on their nationality,” Google wrote in an internal memo.

Google’s internal meme generator and question-proposing system for events emerged as two hot spots, with more flags in the first half of 2020 than all of 2019. “Harassment/Discrimination” was the most cited reason.

Leaders of discussion groups now will have to actively moderate their groups and undergo training to guarantee conversations are “inclusive” and relevant to the group’s stated purpose. The move shows how companies are attempting to deal with divisive online conversations as staffers work from home through 2021.

Internal conversations have also been the source of media scrutiny for big tech companies such as Facebook and Google. Google also cracked down on internal communications in 2019, creating a formal policy that tried to curb internal political debates. The move sparked employee ire.

Schools nationwide are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on questionable temperature-scanning tech.

“In the context of schools, fever screening is a particularly bad idea,” said Katelyn Gostic, an epidemiologist at the University of Chicago who studies the use of symptom-screening systems.

Schools are willing to buy it anyway. “Everything is cumbersome when we are trying to get a thousand kids in school in the morning,” said Shawn Van Scoy, the superintendent of the Gananda Central School District in New York, which has purchased a set of Hikvision cameras. “This will allow us to assess 40 students every minute as they enter the doors of our building.”

SafeCheck USA, which has sold devices to nearly 100 schools, says its devices can read the temperatures of up to 70 people per minute. 

Experts say those claims are dubious and the technology is not meant for high volumes of people at once. At that pace, the technology is “no different than having a fake camera in the building and people have the illusion that they’re safe,” David Pascoe, professor emeritus at the University of Auburn and a U.S. delegate of the International Organization for Standardization for pandemic screening, told NBC News.

SafeCheck USA’s co-founder William Kakon told NBC News that the systems accuracy had been tested by third parties, but he declined to provide details.

The Justice Department charged five Chinese citizens with hacking more than 100 companies and institutions.

The arrests are the warning shot by the Trump administration to Beijing that it will not tolerate cybercrime.

The hackers, who appeared to be motivated by financial gain in this case, are members of a group linked to a Chinese civilian spy agency responsible for counterintelligence. One of the hackers boasted that the government would protect him, according to the indictment.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen criticized China for turning a blind eye to the alleged crimes.

“No country can be respected as a global leader while paying only lip service to the rule of law and without taking steps to disrupt brazen criminal acts like these,” Rosen said.

In July, the United States also charged hackers affiliated with China of attempting to break into companies and research institutions working on a coronavirus vaccine.

The Justice Department says WeChat users won’t be charged penalties if the app is banned next week.

The Justice Department clarified its position in response to a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration by WeChat users, David Shepardson of Reuters reports. The group is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the Trump administration from banning the popular Chinese messaging app.

The group claims in its lawsuit that the Trump administration did not provide sufficient evidence that the app is a national security threat when it decided to ban it alongside TikTok.

The Justice Department said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will release regulations for the app on Sunday. While users will not face civil or criminal penalties for use of the app, “use of the app for such communications could be directly or indirectly impaired through measures targeted at other transactions,” the department said.

Inside the industry

Facebook is pairing up with the maker of Ray-Ban to create luxury smart glasses. 

The collaboration will be released sometime in 2021, CNBC reports. 

“I cant go into full product details yet, but theyre really the next step on the road to augmented-reality glasses. And they look pretty good, too,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said at the Facebook Connect conference yesterday. 

Facebook also announced Project Aria, which will help it flesh out its AR technology. Starting in September employees and contractors will wear research devices to collect data for the project.

Correction: This has been updated to clarify that the glasses worn by employees are for research purposes only and are not related to the Ray-Ban consumer product.

Rant and rave

Signal Fires Josh Constine commented on the optics of the device:

Some Twitter users honed in on the privacy costs of the technology. Serge Egelman, director of usable security and privacy at the International Computer Science Institute at Berkeley:

Facebooks “Infinite Office” VR product also sparked mixed reviews:

Game journalist Kirk McKeand:

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Daybook

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a virtual hearing, “Trump FCC: Four Years of Lost Opportunities,” today at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to examine threats to U.S. intellectual property, focusing on cyberattacks and counterfeits during the coronavirus pandemic on Sept. 23 at 2:30 p.m.

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