Google is currently rolling out its Chrome 66 update to users of the web browser on Mac and iOS. The Mac version now mutes autoplaying content by default, while both desktop and mobile versions include a passwords export option, security improvements and new developer features.
Mute autoplay was originally slated for Chrome 64, which introduced autoplay settings on a per-site basis, but the function got pushed back for unspecified reasons. However, Chrome 66 now rolls out the default behavior for all users, and feeds into Google’s wider intention to make the media playback experience more consistent when users navigate the web.
Going forward, web-hosted media can only automatically play if it has no audio, if the user interacted with the page during a previous browsing session, or if the user frequently plays media on the site. Similarly on mobile, media can only autoplay if the site was added to the Home Screen by the user.
The new passwords export option was previously hidden in Chrome’s backend flag menus, but Chrome 66 adds the option to the user-facing settings.
As for enhancing security, Chrome 66 follows through on Google’s plan to deprecate Symantec-issued certificates, after the company failed to comply with industry security standards. The decision to end its trust for Symantec certificates was made when certificates for example.com and variations of test.com escaped into the wild.
Additionally, Chrome 66 includes a Site Isolation feature that offers additional protection from the Spectre CPU vulnerability, by forcing websites to run as different processes, with blocks to prevent them receiving certain types of sensitive data.
Google Chrome for Mac is a free download available directly from Google’s servers.
Yesterday was a rough one for ZTE. A year after pleading guilty to violating sanctions with Iran and North Korea, the U.S. Department of Commerce brought the hammer down and announced a seven-year export restriction on goods sporting U.S. components.
That applies to more than a quarter of the components used in the company’s telecom equipment and mobile devices, according to estimates, including some big names like Qualcomm. The list may well also include Google licenses, a core part of the company’s Android handsets. According to a Bloomberg unnamed source, ZTE is evaluatingits mobile operating system options as its lawyers meet with Google officials.
Many of the internal components can be replaced by non-U.S. companies. ZTE can likely lean more heavily on fellow Chinese manufacturers to provide more of the product’s internals, but it’s hard to see precisely where it goes from here with regard to an operating system. There’s an extremely small smattering of alternatives open to the company, but none are great. Each would essentially involve the company working to build things, including app selections, from the ground up — and likely play a much more central role in the OS’s development.
As for Google’s role in all of this, ZTE certainly isn’t make or break for Android’s fortunes. Still, it’s a pretty sizable presence. As of late last year, it commanded 12.2 percent of U.S. market share, putting it in fourth place behind Apple, Samsung and LG. It’s certainly in Google’s best interest to maintain as many prominent hardware partners as possible — though, not if it comes with the added risk of upsetting the DOC in the process.
Early today, Roskomnadzor—Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media—moved to enforce a new Russian federal law blocking the use of Telegram, the encrypted chat and social networking application that has become the favored tool of Russia’s political opposition and journalists. The censorship began with Roskomnadzor instructing Internet service providers to block requests to Internet Protocol addresses of Telegram’s servers.
But as users flocked to virtual private networks and proxy services to reach Telegram from their mobile devices and computers—or resorted to building their own—government censors added large swaths of IP addresses to the block list. And according to multiple sources within Russia, ISPs there are now blocking large chunks of IP addresses associated with cloud services from Amazon and Google.
Alexander Zharov, the chief of Roskomnadzor, confirmed that Amazon’s addresses were being blocked “due to the fact that the Telegram messenger started using them to bypass the lock in Russia,” RT reported.
Two former product wizards from Facebook and Google are combining Silicon Valley’s buzziest buzz words — search, artificial intelligence, and big data — into a new technology service aimed at solving nothing less than the problem of how to provide professional meaning in the modern world.
Founded by chief executive Ashutosh Garg, a former search and personalization expert at Google and IBM research, and chief technology officer Varun Kacholia, who led the ranking team at Google and YouTube search and the News Feed team at Facebook, Eightfold.ai boasts an executive team that has a combined 80 patents and more than 6,000 citations for their research.
The two men have come together (in perhaps the most Silicon Valley fashion) to bring the analytical rigor for which their former employers are famous to the question of how best to help employees find fulfillment in the workforce.
“Employment is the backbone of society and it is a hard problem,” to match the right person with the right role, says Garg. “People pitch recruiting as a transaction… [but] to build a holistic platform is to build a company that fundamentally solves this problem,” of making work the most meaningful to the most people, he says.
It’s a big goal, and it’s backed by $24 million in funding provided by some big-time investors — Lightspeed Ventures and Foundation Capital .
The company’s executives say they want to wring all of the biases out of recruiting, hiring, professional development and advancement by creating a picture of an ideal workforce based on publicly available data collected from around the world. That data can be parsed and analyzed to create an almost Platonic ideal of any business in any industry.
That image of an ideal business is then overlaid on a company’s actual workforce to see how best to advance specific candidates and hire for roles that need to be filled to bring a business closer in line with its ideal.
“We have crawled the web for millions of profiles… including data from Wikipedia,” says Garg. “From there we have gotten data round how people have moved in organizations. We use all of this data to see who has performed well in an organization or not. Now what we do… we build models over this data to see who is capable of doing what.”
There are two important functions at play, according to Garg. The first is developing a talent network of a business — “the talent graph of a company,” he calls it. “On top of that we map how people have gone from one function to another in their career.”
Using those tools, Garg says Eightfold.ai’s services can predict the best path for each employee to reach their full potential.
The company takes its name from Buddhism’s eightfold path to enlightenment, and while I’m not sure what the Buddha would say about the conflation of professional development with spiritual growth, Garg believes that he’s on the right track.
“Every individual with the right capability and potential placed in the right role is meaningful progress for us,” says Garg.
Eightfold.ai already counts more than 100 customers using its tools across different industries. Its software has processed more than 20 million applications to date, and increased response rates among its customers by 700 percent compared to the industry average — all while reducing screening costs and time by 90 percent, according to a statement.
“Eightfold.ai has an incredible opportunity to help people reach their full potential in their careers while empowering the workforces of the future,” said Peter Nieh, a partner at Lightspeed Ventures in a statement. “Ashutosh and Varun are bringing to talent management the transformative artificial intelligence and data science capability that they brought to Google, YouTube and Facebook. We backed Ashutosh previously when he co-founded BloomReach and look forward to partnering with him again.”
The application of big data and algorithmically automated decision-making to workforce development is a perfect example of how Silicon Valley approaches any number of problems — and with even the best intentions, it’s worth noting that these tools are only as good as the developers who make them.
Indeed, Kacholia and Garg’s previous companies have been accused of relying too heavily on technology to solve what are essentially human problems.
The proliferation of propaganda, politically minded meddling by foreign governments in domestic campaigns and the promotion of hate speech online has been abetted in many cases by the faith technology companies like Google and Facebook have placed in the tools they’ve developed to ensure that their information and networking platforms are functioning properly (spoiler alert: they’re not).
And the application of these tools to work — and workforce development — is noble, but should also be met with a degree of skepticism.
As an MIT Technology Review article noted from last year:
Algorithmic bias is shaping up to be a major societal issue at a critical moment in the evolution of machine learning and AI. If the bias lurking inside the algorithms that make ever-more-important decisions goes unrecognized and unchecked, it could have serious negative consequences, especially for poorer communities and minorities. The eventual outcry might also stymie the progress of an incredibly useful technology (see “Inspecting Algorithms for Bias”).
Algorithms that may conceal hidden biases are already routinely used to make vital financial and legal decisions. Proprietary algorithms are used to decide, for instance, who gets a job interview, who gets granted parole, and who gets a loan.
“Many of the biases people have in recruiting stem from the limited data people have seen,” Garg responded to me in an email. “With data intelligence we provide recruiters and hiring managers powerful insights around person-job fit that allows teams to go beyond the few skills or companies they might know of, dramatically increasing their pool of qualified candidates. Our diversity product further allows removal of any potential human bias via blind screening. We are fully compliant with EEOC and do not use age, sex, race, religion, disability, etc in assessing fit of candidates to roles in enterprises.”
Making personnel decisions less personal by removing human bias from the process is laudable, but only if the decision-making systems are, themselves, untainted by those biases. In this day and age, that’s no guarantee.
Indiana Jones’ exclamation of, “It belongs in a museum!” is taking a trip into the digital age with a Google initiative that will save archaeological sites to the cloud.
Google’s non-profit Arts and Culture arm is partnering with another non-profit, Oakland-based CyArk, which flies drones and sets up cameras around historical sites using photogrammetry and LiDAR scanning tech to create dense models composed of thousands of photos and data points. These scans had previously not been available publicly but with the help of Google, CyArk now has opened access to a number of their scans and will be adding more.
CyArk’s mission has largely been focused on preservation of these sites. In a talk I attended earlier today, the non-profit detailed that as these historic structures they scan are threatened by natural disasters or human conflict, the data they have offers the potential for these sites to be restored with laser accuracy or at least preserved as they were for future generations to enjoy in a digital sense.
Google’s Art and Culture team has already done a lot of intensely cool work when it comes to preserving artwork across the globe in high-resolution glory. With the advent of so many methods for capturing large-scale 3D models over the past few years, it makes sense that Google would eye preservation of physical structures next. The fact that this 3D digitization arrives in the early stages of consumer VR also gives it a quality platform to be viewed on which will only get better. As opposed to 360 photos, viewers will actually be able to walk around these sites, look into crevices and peek behind objects captured spatially.
It’s actually pretty exciting and the ability to preserve culture as scaled physical locations that you could physically walk through in the future is a deeply intimate view of history that modern technology has converged on. That Google is working with non-profits is largely positive to carry this out is admirable and one can hope that they direct more resources to aid these efforts on a global scale so that more people can experience immersive history.
Today, you can check out 25 of these historic sites in 18 countries. You can view the models and environments in desktop mode as well as on PC and mobile VR headsets.
‘Other companies suck in your data too’ Facebook explained in many, many words today with a blog post detailing how it gathers information about you from around the web.
Facebook product management director David Baser wrote “Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn all have similar Like and Share buttons to help people share things on their services. Google has a popular analytics service. And Amazon, Google and Twitter all offer login features. These companies — and many others — also offer advertising services. In fact, most websites and apps send the same information to multiple companies each time you visit them”. Describing how Facebook receives cookies, IP address, and browser info about users from other sites, he noted “when you see a YouTube video on a site that’s not YouTube, it tells your browser to request the video from YouTube. YouTube then sends it to you.”
It seems Facebook is tired of being singled-out. The tacked on ‘them too!” statements at the end of its descriptions of opaque data collection practices might have been trying to normalize the behavior, but comes off feeling a bit petty.
The blog post also fails to answer one of the biggest lines of questioning from CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimonies before congress last week. Zuckerberg was asked by Representative Ben Lujan about whether Facebook constructs “shadow profiles” of ad targeting data about non-users.
Today’s blog post merely notes that “When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook. Many companies offer these types of services and, like Facebook, they also get information from the apps and sites that use them.”
Facebook has a lot more questions to answer about this practice, since most of its privacy and data controls are only accessible to users who’ve signed up.
The Data Privacy Double-Standard
That said, other tech companies have gotten off light. Whether it’s because Apple and Google aren’t CEO’d by their founders any more, or we’ve grown to see iOS and Android as such underlying platforms that they aren’t responsible for what third-party developers do, scrutiny has focused on Zuckerberg and Facebook.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged from Facebook being unable to enforce its policies that prohibit developers from sharing or selling data they pull from Facebook users. Yet it’s unclear whether Apple and Google do a better job at this policing. And while Facebook let users give their friends’ names and interests to Dr. Aleksandr Kogan who sold it to Cambridge Analytica, iOS and Android apps routinely ask you to give them your friends’ phone numbers, and we don’t see mass backlash about that.
Eleonore Pauwels is Director of the Anticipatory Intelligence Lab at the Wilson Center, an international science policy expert specializing in the governance and democratization of converging technologies, and a former official of the European Commission’s Directorate on Science, Economy and Society.
These legitimate concerns about the privacy threat these companies potentially pose must be balanced by an appreciation of the important role data-optimizing companies like these play in promoting our national security.
The vast majority of the two billion Facebook users live outside the United States, Zuckerberg argued, and the US should be thinking of Facebook and other American companies competing with foreign rivals in “strategic and competitive” terms. Although the American public and US political leaders are rightly grappling with critical issues of privacy, we will harm ourselves if we don’t recognize the validity of Zuckerberg’s national security argument.
Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg testifies during a US House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing about Facebook on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 11, 2018. (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Examples are everywhere of big tech companies increasingly being seen as a threat. US President Trump has been on a rampage against Amazon, and multiple media outlets have called for the company to be broken up as a monopoly. A recent New York Times article, “The Case Against Google,” argued that Google is stifling competition and innovation and suggested it might be broken up as a monopoly. “It’s time to break up Facebook,” Politico argued, calling Facebook “a deeply untransparent, out-of-control company that encroaches on its users’ privacy, resists regulatory oversight and fails to police known bad actors when they abuse its platform.” US Senator Bill Nelson made a similar point when he asserted during the Senate hearings that “if Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix the privacy invasions, then we are going to have to. We, the Congress.”
While many concerns like these are valid, seeing big US technology companies solely in the context of fears about privacy misses the point that these companies play a far broader strategic role in America’s growing geopolitical rivalry with foreign adversaries. And while Russia is rising as a threat in cyberspace, China represents a more powerful and strategic rival in the 21st century tech convergence arms race.
Data is to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th, a key asset for driving wealth, power, and competitiveness. Only companies with access to the best algorithms and the biggest and highest quality data sets will be able to glean the insights and develop the models driving innovation forward. As Facebook’s failure to protect its users’ private information shows, these date pools are both extremely powerful and can be abused. But because countries with the leading AI and pooled data platforms will have the most thriving economies, big technology platforms are playing a more important national security role than ever in our increasingly big data-driven world.
BEIJING, CHINA – 2017/07/08: Robots dance for the audience on the expo. On Jul. 8th, Beijing International Consumer electronics Expo was held in Beijing China National Convention Center. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)
China, which has set a goal of becoming “the world’s primary AI innovation center” by 2025, occupying “the commanding heights of AI technology” by 2030, and the “global leader” in “comprehensive national strength and international influence” by 2050, understands this. To build a world-beating AI industry, Beijing has kept American tech giants out of the Chinese market for years and stolen their intellectual property while putting massive resources into developing its own strategic technology sectors in close collaboration with national champion companies like Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent.
Examples of China’s progress are everywhere.
Close to a billion Chinese people use Tencent’s instant communication and cashless platforms. In October 2017, Alibaba announced a three-year investment of $15 billion for developing and integrating AI and cloud-computing technologies that will power the smart cities and smart hospitals of the future. Beijing is investing $9.2 billion in the golden combination of AI and genomics to lead personalized health research to new heights. More ominously, Alibaba is prototyping a new form of ubiquitous surveillance that deploys millions of cameras equipped with facial recognition within testbed cities and another Chinese company, Cloud Walk, is using facial recognition to track individuals’ behaviors and assess their predisposition to commit a crime.
In all of these areas, China is ensuring that individual privacy protections do not get in the way of bringing together the massive data sets Chinese companies will need to lead the world. As Beijing well understands, training technologists, amassing massive high-quality data sets, and accumulating patents are key to competitive and security advantage in the 21st century.
“In the age of AI, a U.S.-China duopoly is not just inevitable, it has already arrived,” said Kai-Fu Lee, founder and CEO of Beijing-based technology investment firm Sinovation Ventures and a former top executive at Microsoft and Google. The United States should absolutely not follow China’s lead and disregard the privacy protections of our citizens. Instead, we must follow Europe’s lead and do significantly more to enhance them. But we also cannot blind ourselves to the critical importance of amassing big data sets for driving innovation, competitiveness, and national power in the future.
UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 24: Aerial view of the Pentagon building photographed on Sept. 24, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
In its 2017 unclassified budget, the Pentagon spent about $7.4 billion on AI, big data and cloud-computing, a tiny fraction of America’s overall expenditure on AI. Clearly, winning the future will not be a government activity alone, but there is a big role government can and must play. Even though Google remains the most important AI company in the world, the U.S. still crucially lacks a coordinated national strategy on AI and emerging digital technologies. While the Trump administration has gutted the white house Office of Science and Technology Policy, proposed massive cuts to US science funding, and engaged in a sniping contest with American tech giants, the Chinese government has outlined a “military-civilian integration development strategy” to harness AI to enhance Chinese national power.
FBI Director Christopher Wray correctly pointed out that America has now entered a “whole of society” rivalry with China. If the United States thinks of our technology champions solely within our domestic national framework, we might spur some types of innovation at home while stifling other innovations that big American companies with large teams and big data sets may be better able to realize.
America will be more innovative the more we nurture a healthy ecosystem of big, AI driven companies while also empowering smaller startups and others using blockchain and other technologies to access large and disparate data pools. Because breaking up US technology giants without a sufficient analysis of both the national and international implications of this step could deal a body blow to American prosperity and global power in the 21st century, extreme caution is in order.
America’s largest technology companies cannot and should not be dragooned to participate in America’s growing geopolitical rivalry with China. Based on recent protests by Google employees against the company’s collaboration with the US defense department analyzing military drone footage, perhaps they will not.
But it would be self-defeating for American policymakers to not at least partly consider America’s tech giants in the context of the important role they play in America’s national security. America definitely needs significantly stronger regulation to foster innovation and protect privacy and civil liberties but breaking up America’s tech giants without appreciating the broader role they are serving to strengthen our national competitiveness and security would be a tragic mistake.
Few Facebook critics are as credible as Roger McNamee, the managing partner at Elevation Partners. As an early investor in Facebook, McNamee was only only a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg but also introduce him to Sheryl Sandberg.
So it’s hard to underestimate the significance of McNamee’s increasingly public criticism of Facebook over the last couple of years, particularly in the light of the growing Cambridge Analytica storm.
According to McNamee, Facebook pioneered the building of a tech company on “human emotions”. Given that the social network knows all of our “emotional hot buttons”, McNamee believes, there is “something systemic” about the way that third parties can “destabilize” our democracies and economies. McNamee saw this in 2016 with both the Brexit referendum in the UK and the American Presidential election and concluded that Facebook does, indeed, give “asymmetric advantage” to negative messages.
McNamee still believes that Facebook can be fixed. But Zuckerberg and Sandberg, he insists, both have to be “honest” about what’s happened and recognize its “civic responsibility” in strengthening democracy. And tech can do its part too, McNamee believes, in acknowledging and confronting what he calls its “dark side”.