June 12, 2020

Big Tech’s big retreat from facial recognition

June 12, 2020
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One of the best ways to learn is to listen to other people’s experiences. Kenneth Duke, an indoor skydiving instructor who’s a member of our Trends community, created a platform to help more people do that. It’s called TryLivingWhile.Black, and it curates stories from the Black community. 

Duke is inspired by the power of short videos and animation, and his project aims “to bring underlying common factors and causes of racism to the surface.” Check out one of the stories he published here, and sign up for his updates if you want to follow along.

Loopholes

Big Tech is social distancing from facial recognition, sort of

This week, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft announced they were scrapping or pausing their facial recognition work with police. 

Those decisions are a win for skeptics who have pointed out racial bias in facial recognition systems — but when you look at the fine print, they aren’t as big of a step forward as they might sound.

IBM was the first domino

The company said Monday that it’s dropping its facial recognition work in “pursuit of justice and racial equity.” IBM’s move is the farthest-reaching of all — it won’t develop or research facial recognition tech, period.

“The symbolic nature of this is important,” one researcher told the Associated Press. But IBM’s facial recognition efforts were already minimal, so as the AP put it, the decision is “unlikely to affect its bottom line.” 

Meanwhile, IBM still seems to be supplying police departments with crime-predicting AI — another tool that has come under fire for racial bias.

Then Bezos pressed pause

The company announced that it would put a 1-year moratorium on “police use” of its facial recognition software, encouraging Congress to pass regulation in the meantime.

Microsoft’s order also won’t last forever: It won’t supply facial recognition to police until “we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights,” according to company president Brad Smith. 

Microsoft has previously supported legislation that would allow police departments to use facial recognition with some limits. 

But as The Washington Post notes, the announcements from Amazon and Microsoft apply only to police use of the technology: Neither company has mentioned whether it will contract with federal agencies, like ICE or the Defense Department, that regularly use facial recognition.

Amazon Ring’s, meanwhile, is still an active surveillance tool for police.

Facial recognition isn’t going anywhere

Bottom line: Police aren’t likely to lack access to this tech anytime soon.

More than 45 companies offer real-time facial recognition, and some of the most powerful of them — like Clearview AI — are forging ahead

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Tweet Relief

Twitter’s experiments try to make your timeline a little less awful

Hey, did you do the reading?

Bet you thought you’d left that question behind in Psych 101. It’s making a comeback — but this time Twitter’s asking, instead of some random guy from your lecture.

The app is testing a new feature that aims to check trigger-happy tweeters: If a user retweets an article without opening it, a prompt will pop up encouraging them to read it first. 

Think before you tweet

Trolls, Reply Guys, literal Nazis – Twitter has taken plenty of flack over the years for not addressing some of its darker demons. But the new test is Twitter’s latest baby step toward changing that.

  • Late last year, Twitter tested a feature allowing some users to hide specific replies. The platform took it a step further in May, giving some users more flexibility in limiting replies. 
  • After conspiracy-theory Twitter had a field day with COVID-19 misinformation, the app began labeling tweets with “disputed content” – slapping warnings on everyone from 5G truthers to President Trump.
  • Last month, Twitter rolled out a feature prompting people to revise replies it deemed potentially harmful.

Twitter’s tighten-the-screws strategy isn’t universal among social behemoths — Facebook has taken a more laissez-faire approach

And that’s putting it mildly

Mark Zuckerberg’s hands-off style on political speech has landed him in hot water with just about everyone — his own staff, the scientists he supports, and now Joe Biden.

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SPONSORED

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If you’ve been keeping up with our newsletter lately, you’ve almost certainly heard about NowRx

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  • 280% revenue growth from 2017 to 2019
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  • New users have nearly doubled compared to the previous year

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Small Business Stories

One reader’s newsletter for Black and brown women in tech

We’re highlighting stories of black business owners from our audience — and their top resources for up-and-coming entrepreneurs of color. If you’re interested in being featured, fill out our survey here.

In her job on the editorial team at Viva Tech — a Paris-based tech conference that describes itself as the largest in Europe — Vera Baker scours the news for speakers to invite. 

But when the conference comes around each June, Baker has noticed a glaring pattern. “The one thing I see always is that there are not a lot of people of color in these rooms,” she said. 

Fast forward to this past April. Baker was on furlough from Viva Tech, and she hit on an idea. All that tech news she was reading? She could spin it into a newsletter for women of color founders, to increase access to major conferences.

Baker sent out her first batch of For Colored Girls Who Tech to 100 friends and colleagues on April 21, and she’s since upped her subscriber count to 1k+. Especially during the pandemic, her work feels pressing. 

“We see the numbers that say women in tech are more likely to be laid off,” she said. “Statistics are even worse for women of color.” One reason: Women, especially women of color, tend to have less seniority than men in general, she says.

Baker’s resources for entrepreneurs of color: 

“I’m a big advocate for applying to incubators, accelerators, and other startup programs that help founders flush out their ideas and connect with investors,” Baker said. Say, the Y Combinators of the world. 

But she also has a few other suggestions: 

  • Future VC is working to diversify the VC space.
  • AfroTech is a media and events company geared toward black tech workers.
  • AfroBytes hosts events in NY, SF, Hong Kong, Nairobi, and other cities to connect the world to the African tech landscape. 

How to support Baker: Subscribe to For Colored Girls Who Tech

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Not All Heroes

Time limits on video games? A Japanese teen is taking the government to court

Katniss Everdeen isn’t the only teen resistance leader to know: A 17-year-old high school student named Wataru is taking on a new local law meant to crack down on video game addiction.

In Japan’s Kagawa Prefecture, kids under 20 are only allowed to game for up to 60 minutes on school nights and 90 minutes on weekends. 

Wataru took matters into his own hands, and joined forces with a constitutional lawyer — Tomoshi Sakka — to sue the government.  

Not all heroes wear capes — some just clutch controllers

The Kagawa Prefecture’s concerns aren’t unjustified: The World Health Organization has listed “gaming disorder” as an official disease since 2018. 

But as Sakka explains it, a law like this violates Japan’s constitutional protections for freedom of expression.

None of this is to say Wataru is some kind of video game die hard — he claims to play as much as a “regular high school student.” 

But Wataru felt he had to step up anyway. “If I don’t do something,” he told The New York Times, “who will?”

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Sunday Sneak Peek

Our economic crisis has drawn lots of comparisons to the Great Depression. But for one small town in Washington State, the comparison feels especially apt. In the Depression era, the town of Tenino came up with a solution when one of its only banks closed down. Tenino printed its own dollar bills — in the form of thin wooden blocks. 

Fast forward to the present day, and Tenino’s unique currency is flowing again. This week’s Sunday story explains who’s getting the money and why. Watch this week’s sneak peek for a preview. The story hits your inbox on Sunday morning — and you don’t even have to pay us any wooden dollars to get it.

Snippets

1️⃣  So much for the markets’ pandemic-proof rallies: It was the worst day on Wall Street since mid-March, thanks to fears about a 2nd wave of coronavirus cases.

2️⃣  Two companies, two $100m pledges: YouTube launched a fund to support Black creators, and Apple is pouring the same amount into a company effort for racial justice.

3️⃣  Audrey Gellman stepped down as CEO of The Wing — on the same day that employees staged a digital walkout to support their Black and brown colleagues.

4️⃣  The Internet Archive is pulling the plug on its National Emergency Library program two weeks early, under the pressure of a lawsuit by major publishing companies.

5️⃣  The latest in protest tech: A new app called Anonymous Camera will blur out people in photos and videos.

6️⃣  The EU is asking Google, Facebook, and Twitter to create monthly reports on how they are fighting misinformation. 

7️⃣  The “defund the police” movement is coming for… the Paw Patrol.

8️⃣  Who cares what the critics think? One of Netflix’s most popular movies — The Last Days of American Crime — has a whopping 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

9️⃣  TikTok has become a training ground for new filmmakers. 

🔟  Here come Snap Minis — small apps that can be opened within Snapchat. One example: A service to watch movie trailers with your buddies and buy tickets as a group.

The Hustle Says

Stylish frames + good cause = winning formula. Felix Gray is donating 10% of the proceeds from every sale of their Nash frames to Black Girls CODE, a not-for-profit organization that provides tech education for African-American girls.

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Weekend Wasters

Hey, you made it to Friday. Good job. Here’s some stuff to help you chill. 

This 7-minute long YouTube vid entitled “The World’s Most Relaxing Video” was created with one idea in mind: Help you chill the F out. 

Not in the video mood? We gotchu. Try guessing the titles of wikiHow articles based only on their header image. (This one gets weird.) 

If games are more your speed, check out Home Sheep Home. Made by the same folks who created Wallace and Gromit, your mission is simple: Help 3 sheep — Shaun, Timmy, and Shirley — navigate their way home. 

And, if all the above fail to satisfy, there’s only one thing left to do… nothing. Do nothing for two minutes right here. 

Shower Thoughts

We love hearing your Shower Thoughts… wait, that sounded weird. We love *reading* your Shower Thoughts. There, that’s better.

1. “People that take care of chickens are literally chicken tenders.” – Sergio

2. “Saying ‘Have a nice day’ sounds friendly, but saying ‘Enjoy your next 24 hours’ sounds threatening.” – Valerie

3. “When you’re a child, you get down from your chair. When you’re an adult, you get up from your chair.” – Nick

4. “Every C in ‘Pacific Ocean’ is pronounced differently.” – Zach

5. “Trash cans in public facilities often feature a sign on them that reads ‘Empty When Full’.” – Michael

Plus one from Reddit that made us go “Ohhhh…”

6. A skeleton, a zombie, and a ghost all make up one full human.

via Reddit
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