P.S. MORE CORONAVIRUS NEWS
Peace Corps Volunteers (7,334 in 61 countries) were recently evacuated from countries around the world. If you would like to be of assistance in their “relocation” efforts, please visit the site below:
Happy Holidays. Will be back on January 3, 2020.
WASHINGTON — Google executives, after months of mostly avoiding the harsh spotlight put on their internet peers, are being grilled in Washington this week by lawmakers questioning if the Silicon Valley giant is living up to its promise to be a neutral arbiter of online information.
On Friday, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, will meet with Representative Kevin McCarthy, of California, the Republican House majority leader and a vocal critic of Google, and more than two dozen Republicans to discuss complaints the company is trying to silence conservative voices.
“Google has a lot of questions to answer about reports of bias in its search results, violations of user privacy, anticompetitive behavior, and business dealings with repressive regimes like China,” Mr. McCarthy said in a statement.
The Friday meeting will cap a week of tech-related sessions in Washington in which Google — in the cross hairs of Silicon Valley’s conservative critics since late summer — has played a starring role.
At a gathering of the heads of the Justice Department and a dozen state attorneys general on Tuesday, Google was mentioned more than any other company when it came to concerns about antitrust enforcement and privacy practices, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
At a Senate hearing discussing online privacy on Wednesday, Google’s chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, received the toughest and broadest array of questions from lawmakers who wanted to know about the company’s consideration of introducing search services in China. Google says it is not close to starting such a service.
In a letter to the Senate committee holding the hearing, a former employee, Jack Poulson, said Google’s building a search engine that would be acceptable to the government of China was a “catastrophic failure of the internal privacy review process.” He said this was part of a “broad pattern of unaccountable decision making.”
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, also questioned Mr. Enright about claims of bias against conservatives in search results. “I can tell you that millions of Texans believe Google is actively censoring the speech of conservatives,” Mr. Cruz said.
On Thursday, Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer and Republican Party official, is set to testify in the House about anti-conservative bias in tech. Ms. Dhillon represents several former employees in a lawsuit filed last year against Google that claims the company discriminated against them based on their political beliefs.
Google’s week in Washington comes three weeks after executives from Twitter and Facebook testified in a Senate hearing dedicated to Russian disinformation on social media. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, also spoke at a House hearing about claims of anti-conservative bias at Twitter.
Google executives did not attend the Senate hearing, though they were invited. The company offered to send Kent Walker, a senior vice president for global affairs who is also the company’s top lawyer. But urged on by Facebook officials, according to two people familiar with the matter, senators insisted on a more powerful executive. Google refused.
It was the “worst business decision of 2018,” said Scott Galloway, a founder of the business research firm Gartner L2 and a professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business. “It feels like the tide has turned substantially,” Mr. Galloway said. “They’ve sort of poked the bear.”
A Google spokeswoman said officials from the company had testified before Congress 22 times since 2008. “We’re happy to continue explaining our products and practices,” Becca Rutkoff, the Google spokeswoman, said in a statement.
For longtime Google critics and even some of its Silicon Valley peers, it is surprising that Google has avoided the spotlight for so long.
It has 90 percent of the global search market — a share so high that it has for years had to sidestep concerns that it is a dominant monopoly that needs to be regulated. Competitors have long claimed that Google is using its search dominance to advantage its own services and should be controlled by antitrust laws.
The Google-owned YouTube video service is also dominant, and has for several years faced questions about videos that show terrorist violence and disinformation, similar to issues that Facebook and Twitter have had to address in congressional hearings.
And Google has faced several claims of bias. A video of a staff meeting held shortly after Donald J. Trump was elected president, leaked two weeks ago, showed several senior Google executives, including Mr. Pichai, expressing their alarm.
Emails leaked last week showed lower-level Google employees discussing whether they could alter search results to counter President Trump’s travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries. Google is adamant that no one in a position to make such a change seriously considered it.
Employees are bracing for more embarrassing leaks. The company has long encouraged workers to speak their minds on internal message boards. That includes politics.
The conservative pressure on Google started to escalate in late summer. On Aug. 28, Mr. Trump, in a series of tweets, attacked Google for what he claimed was an effort to suppress conservative media that was favorable to his administration.
The next day, the president posted a video that seemed to show that Google did not promote his State of the Union address on its home page as it had in the past for President Obama. He used the hashtag #StopTheBias. The video was incorrect. Google said that it didn’t promote Mr. Obama’s inaugural address, a joint statement to Congress but not technically a State of the Union address, in 2009 either.
Shortly after, other Republicans were calling for regulations and greater scrutiny. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, called for antitrust regulators to reopen an investigation into Google.
Some Google officials wonder if competitors are organizing a campaign to prompt regulatory scrutiny.
At the Senate hearing Google did not attend, lawmakers mentioned a report that had come out a day before from the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit watchdog group that often publishes research critical of Google. The group posed as Russian trolls to buy what it called politically divisive ads on Google’s systems, which failed to stop them.
Google called the report “a stunt” by its rivals and blamed the software maker Oracle for its release. Ken Glueck, a senior vice president at Oracle, said it had made a one-time financial contribution in 2016 to the Campaign for Accountability but denied that the company had any involvement in the report.
Google has many business opponents in Washington, including telecommunication giants like AT&T and Comcast. Oracle and News Corp. have put significant resources into funding third-party coalitions and public relations firms to place ads and to lobby lawmakers on Google’s dominance in search and on allegations it uses its power to unfairly harm publishers and other tech rivals.
But few companies have been as tenacious as Yelp, a midsize internet outfit with far fewer resources. It has waged a seven-year battle to get regulatory agencies around the world to investigate Google. Until recently, its calls have been largely ignored in the United States. The company claims Google prioritized its own reviews over others, making it much harder for competing reviews sites like Yelp to be discovered.
Early in September, a White House official received an email with an attachment from Luther Lowe, the senior vice president for policy for Yelp.
“Check out the attachment,” Mr. Lowe wrote in an email. “Tell me what you think.”
The attachment was a document called, “Executive Draft Order to Protect American Competition and Small Businesses From Bias in Online Platforms.” It was a draft presidential order instructing antitrust officials to recommend ways to protect competition and clamp down on content bias on internet search and social media sites.
Mr. Lowe said in an email that he did not know the origins of the document and that it had been forwarded to him.
Daisuke Wakabayashi and Cecelia Kang, NYTIMES 9/17/18
Trump is now the single biggest political advertiser on Facebook. So what’s your favorite addiction? Politics or social media? I think it is now safe to say after the last election, that if you like to get your “fake news” online, you were among those who were the most helpful in getting Trump elected. He may not have gotten the most individual Americans’ votes, but he certainly knew where the most counted and where to place his political ads, Facebook.
He still continues today and will probably continue to take the most advantage of Facebook’s hypnotic hold on those who believe that everything that they read or see online must be true! This is now the age of believing in your own opinions, regardless of what the facts may be. “If it’s online, it must be true.” As discussed on this blog on Monday, political consultants have said that Democrats who are running for election are spending a smaller percentage of their ad budgets on digital ads than their rivals, sometimes as little as 10 percent versus 40 percent for Republicans. That has spurred volunteer efforts in Silicon Valley, which is widely regarded as liberal, to help bring Democratic campaigns into the digital age.
The new digital political age? And if you can’t get enough followers, make them up.
“The Internet, put simply, is a low-cost communications network. Everything else, like the web, builds on top of that. And having so much information online can be a gold mine for reporting . . . Silicon Valley is a caldron of innovation.
But all of the big issues surrounding technology impact on the world – like automation, economic opportunity and income disparity – are playing out outside the tech hubs, across the $20 trillion American economy. Tons of research is being done on those subjects, and it’s all online . . . What it means is that you can test your assumptions for any trend or explanatory story . . . The other similar change is the ease, speed and cost of one-to-one communication means you can talk to far more people, wherever they are, on any given story. (NY Times, 6/28/18).”
So it’s all about the innovation and change. But that may not be the information people are looking for. It seems that a lot of Americans (not the majority) felt that the country had to be made “Great Again.”
P.S. Happy Fourth of July. Enjoy the holiday “week.” Will be back on Monday, July 9th.
Microsoft is now trying on the role as moral leader in a tech world now facing increasing public criticism. I think you all know who they are, so let’s just say that Facebook is leading the pack. Microsoft is the only one to avoid sustained public criticism about contributing to the social ills of the last couple of years..
At the same time, Microsoft has emerged as one of the most outspoken advocates in the industry for protecting user privacy and establishing ethical guidelines for new technology like artificial intelligence (A.I.). They have launched a new program. A.I. for Accessibility that will award $25 million over five years to researchers, nonprofits and developers who use artificial intelligence to help people with disabilities.
Echoing a theme he talked about at Microsoft’s conference last year, Satya Nadella, its chief, said that the industry has a responsibility to build technology that empowered everyone.
Black Americans are frequent users of technology, and have helped build social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram into the giants they are today. But they aren’t reaping the same economic benefits of the tech boom as white Americans, and low rates of black employment in the tech industry are a large part of the reason why.
A new study released on Friday sheds light on this issue. The State of Black America 2018, a report published annually by the National Urban League, compares how black and white people fare in a number of areas, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.
This year’s report pays particular attention to black Americans’ access Digital Revolution is Leaving Black People Behind to jobs in the tech industry and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The study reveals that while black people are one of the racial groups most likely to use smartphones and have created thriving communities on platforms like Twitter, those high rates of usage haven’t translated into employment.
“And this is largely because the tech industry has failed to hire black STEM grads and transition them into careers in Silicon Valley, where many of these jobs are basedIn the vast majority of [social media and tech] companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce is African American,” the authors of the report note. “By contrast, at least half of the workforce in these companies is white.Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, notes that this isn’t new — black Americans have repeatedly been left behind when America’s technology makes a leap forward, be it when slavery and Reconstruction blocked black people from the benefits of farming technology, or when technological revolutions in the North were less accessible to poor black people fleeing the South. Over generations, the effect of this lack of inclusion has compounded, leading us to the disparities that exist today.
And, as the report indicates, none of this happens in a vacuum. When black workers are shut out of higher-income jobs, like in tech, it adds to the already significant income gap — the median income for white households is $63,155, while it’s only $38,555 for black households. There’s a persistent wealth gap as well, which hasn’t improved much since the 1960s.
“We’re trying to shine a spotlight on the fact that this is an area where the country has to improve,” Morial says.
Silicon Valley has faced mounting criticism for its lack of diversity
Unfortunately, the tech world’s lack of diversity is a stubborn problem that doesn’t seem to be going away. Despite media attention and criticism, top companies continue to hire small numbers of black employees. At companies like Uber, Twitter, Google, and Facebook, fewer than 3 percent of tech workers identify as black.
In 2015, the Congressional Black Caucus launched an extended effort to press Silicon Valley to boost its black employment numbers, with several members of Congress traveling to meet with various tech industry leaders. The efforts have led to some change — the 3 percent figure above actually reflects slight growth at places like Facebook.
The caucus has continued to pressure tech companies to improve further. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill last month about Facebook’s ability to protect users’ privacy, black lawmakers took him to task for his company’s persistent lack of diversity, saying that Facebook “does not reflect America.”
And on April 30, lawmakers traveled to Silicon Valley for a third time to engage in a series of discussions with tech companies. Some members, including Rep. Maxine Waters, have threatened that lawmakers could introduce stricter measures to regulate the industry if companies can’t improve on their own.
The CBC members argue that efforts to increase black employment are not simply due to the economic opportunities presented by a high-paying tech job but are also about increasing protections for minority users. Black people are often targeted on social media and other internet-based platforms, facing racism on Twitter, discrimination from Airbnb hosts, or exploitation from fake Facebook pages.
Morial argues that while the tech industry has said promising things about improving diversity, it needs to do more — in hiring as well as in increasing training and investment in black students and improving educational pipelines.
Perhaps another “Inconvenient Truth” as Al Gore would say!