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Identity cards are no threat to civil liberties | Surveillance

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Gracie Mae Bradley of Liberty writes that “People often ask why objections to proposed ID systems in the UK have historically been so strident when such schemes are widespread in mainland Europe” (The UK’s online ID plans: expensive, intrusive, unnecessary, 6 September). Alas, she does not answer this question. Countries with stronger civil liberties traditions and constitutional protections of privacy have no problems with ID cards. The UK state has most of us registered on databases via national insurance, NHS numbers or driving licences. We willingly surrender our privacy to private foreign firms when we use mobile phones or the internet.

We will never persuade the British people of the benefits of open borders if we cannot tell them who is in the country. Labour’s 2005 general election manifesto included a promise to introduce ID cards, but after their victory, thanks to Home Office delays, they were not introduced until February 2010. About 15,000 were issued. Had they been on offer in 2007 there would have been millions. Most people would have seen them as useful for passport-free travel, proof of age and prevention of voter fraud.

It is an antediluvian myth that they are a threat to civil liberties. On the continent, open borders and free movement are supported because citizens know their democratic governments issue ID cards, so they know who lives in a country. The Tory-Lib Dem abolition of the nascent ID card system in the summer of 2010 was an important first step towards Brexit.
Denis MacShane
Former Europe minister, 2002-05

• Empowering digital identity at a national level will strengthen opportunities not just for individuals, but for the economy as a whole. Through access to trustworthy data, education about what the programme entails and clarity around standards for organisations using this data, the government will be able to better provide citizens with safe, secure access to digital services. The biggest challenge facing the government will be one of money. Whether setting up infrastructure or implementing a framework for validation, verification and authentication, Downing Street has its work cut out to ensure that everything runs smoothly – critical to building trust, particularly in light of track-and-trace data privacy concerns.

We need to stop viewing digital identities and the data attached as “good” and “bad”. Instead, the question should centre around how can this be set up to benefit the country as a whole while creating minimal disruption.
Gus Tomlinson
London

• The trials and tribulations of the Windrush generation in attempting to obtain “indefinite leave to remain” status illustrates, yet again, the need for a national identity card. It’s time we fell in line with the continent by having such a system. Needless to say, sorting out the status of EU residents, come our definitive departure from the EU, will prove to be an almighty administrative nightmare.
Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

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Microsoft releases Windows 10 October 2020 Update, 20H2

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Microsoft boss Satya Nadella speaking at the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in Munich, Germany, 16 Janaury 2017. Guests at the 3-day conference discussed trends and developments in digitalisation.

Tobias Hase | picture alliance | Getty Images

Microsoft said Tuesday it’s starting to release the next version of its Windows 10 operating system for PCs and tablets. The Windows 10 October 2020 Update, aka version 20H2, irons out technical and security issues and provides a handful of software enhancements.

More than 1 billion devices run Windows 10, making it more popular than Apple’s MacOS and Google’s Chrome OS. Windows contributes about 16% of Microsoft’s revenue, as consumers and businesses buy machines with the operating system installed.

Microsoft introduced Windows 10 in 2015. Since then the company has issued two updates per year. This marks the second year Microsoft is bringing out a relatively low-profile update in the fall that seeks to boost the performance and quality of Windows, rather than a release packed with attention-grabbing new features that people might have to learn how to use.

Here are some of the changes in version 20H2:

  • The new version of the Edge browser powered by the open-source Chromium engine arrives, for those who don’t already have it. Compared with the Microsoft-made Edge that debuted with Windows 10 in 2015, Chromium-based Edge supports more websites and browser extensions. Microsoft had made early versions of Chromium-based Edge available for people to download in 2019, but the company had not previously packaged it up with a Windows update until now. (Chromium is the same core technology that powers Google’s popular Chrome browser, but released under an open-source license for third parties to modify and redistribute.)
  • If you choose to use Edge, the Alt + Tab keyboard shortcut will allow you to toggle between different browser tabs, as well as any open programs. Users can adjust or disable that new behavior by going to Settings > System > Multitasking.
  • If you pin a website — say, CNBC.com — to your Taskbar in Edge, now when you hover over the app icon for that website in the Taskbar, Windows will show you all of the open browser tabs from that website across various browser windows. It’s similar to the way you can see all open windows for a given program, such as Excel, by hovering over its icon in the Taskbar.
  • If you have a two-in-one PC, such as a Surface Pro, and you take off the keyboard, Windows will no longer display a dialog box to ask if you’d like to switch to tablet mode; it will just do that automatically.
  • The background color for icons that appear on the Start menu will look consistent and match well with the light or dark color of the full Start menu, depending on whether the machine uses a light or dark theme.
  • Microsoft will try to do a better job of selecting the app icons that will appear by default in the Taskbar when people create new accounts or log on for the first time. For instance, the Taskbar might display the Your Phone app instead of the standard-issue Mail app for people who have linked their Android phones to Windows. Microsoft said it won’t change Taskbar app icons for existing accounts.
  • It’s easier to take action on the specifications of a given PC and its version of Windows. Microsoft has added copy buttons to the Settings > System > About page.

You can check if the update is available for your PC by going to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and clicking the “check for updates” button.

WATCH: Microsoft is launching its “smallest Xbox ever”—Here are the details


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Zuckerberg Says Facebook Will Ban Less Content Post-Election

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Facebook has spent the past few months scrambling to ban Holocaust denial, the QAnon mass delusion, and right-wing extremist groups. To outside observers, it appears the company is finally reckoning with the vast landscape of hate and disinformation it has helped create.

But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently told employees at a companywide meeting the real reason the social network was cracking down: the US presidential election.

In an all-hands conference call with Facebook employees last Thursday, the 36-year-old billionaire said that the company made policy changes to address the unstable situation around the US election and its aftermath. There has been no change in the way the company operates, according to Zuckerberg, who maintains majority shareholder voting power at Facebook.

“Once we’re past these events, and we’ve resolved them peacefully, I wouldn’t expect that we continue to adopt a lot more policies that are restricting of a lot more content,” Zuckerberg said in audio of the conference call obtained by BuzzFeed News.

While observers have speculated that Facebook’s new policies against potentially violent and conspiratorial content could mean that it’s turned a corner — or that the company is preparing for a Biden presidency and possible government regulation — Zuckerberg’s comments are an indication that the new rules are only stopgap measures. The 3 billion people who use at least one Facebook-owned product should not expect more rule changes after the election, Zuckerberg said.

“The basic answer is that this does not reflect a shift in our underlying philosophy or strong support of free expression,” he said. “What it reflects is, in our view, an increased risk of violence and unrest, especially around the elections, and an increased risk of physical harm, especially around the time when we expect COVID vaccines to be approved over the coming months.”

“This does not reflect a shift in our underlying philosophy or strong support of free expression.”

While the social network has created new policies to address health misinformation, violence-inciting militants, and hate, Zuckerberg has not expressed the same kind of candor in public Facebook posts as he has in speeches to his own employees. In September, he provided a general update on the company’s approach to the US election, which was followed this month by a post explaining the changing approach to Holocaust denial content.

He had previously posted a video in August explaining the “operational mistake” of allowing a militant group to exist on the platform in the lead-up to the shooting deaths of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But he only published the video, which was made at an August all-hands meeting, after BuzzFeed News reported the contents of his talk and his admission to the company’s failure to act.

On Thursday, he tried to provide more clarity to more than 50,000 workers, some of whom pressed him on why it took so long take action against Holocaust denial. In 2018, Zuckerberg famously said in an interview that while he abhors such rhetoric, Facebook allowed Holocaust denial content because it showed that the company stood for free expression.

“There are a lot of things that I think that people say that are deeply offensive, and that are hurtful or even hateful,” Zuckerberg said. “But you know, where I think that we should draw the line is around when something has the likelihood to contribute to real-world violence or harm. And what we’ve seen over the last several years is a rise in anti-Semitic violence, both in the United States and across the world.”

“There’s an increased risk of these kind of different attacks, especially around this flashpoint around the election,” he added.

Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois reiterated the idea that the changes in polices did not reflect a new approach to the company’s principles.

“We remain committed to free expression while also recognizing the current environment requires clearer guardrails to minimize harm,” she said.

For some, Zuckerberg’s comments may reinforce the charge that the company only makes policy changes when faced with major US events or under press scrutiny. In an explosive internal memo posted last month, fired engineer Sophie Zhang wrote that the company prioritized action in instances of political or electoral misinformation in the US and Western Europe.

“It’s an open secret within the civic integrity space that Facebook’s short-term decisions are largely motivated by PR and the potential for negative attention,” she wrote in her note, which was first obtained by BuzzFeed News.

In his talk, Zuckerberg cited non-US and European countries where the company had supposedly taken action to ban certain types of speech to prevent real-world harm.

“We’ve had ongoing work in a number of countries that we consider at risk — countries at risk of ongoing civil conflict, places like Myanmar, or Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia — where the determination that we’ve made alongside human rights groups and local groups on the ground is that a wider band of speech and expression would lead potentially to more incitement of violence or different issues,” he said.

In 2018, United Nations investigators found that Facebook had been culpable and slow to act against hate speech that fueled the genocide of Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority that had lived primarily in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Facebook was also used to organize deadly violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka. Violent rhetoric on the social network is also pushing Ethiopia closer to genocide, according to Vice.

“The idea that this election is the only one that matters is nuts,” said David Kaye, a former UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. “The platform has an enormous and a more significant impact in a lot of places around the world.”

“To say we’re done does not strike me as a plausible response to the possible violence that could be done in the next couple of months or years,” he added.

“To say we’re done does not strike me as a plausible response to the possible violence that could be done in the next couple of months or years.”

In his remarks about the election, Zuckerberg mostly avoided discussion of the company’s decision to limit the spread of an unconfirmed New York Post story about Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, only suggesting that it could have been part of “a big misinformation dump.”

He did, however, comment on the current presidential polling, which favors Biden.

“It looks like potentially Biden’s margin of leading in the polls has increased, which may lead to a result, which is not close, which, could be potentially helpful — if there’s just a decisive victory from someone — that could be helpful for clarity and for not having violence or civil unrest after the election,” Zuckerberg said. Facebook is currently running an online voting information center to tell people that results may not be settled by the end of election night due to the large increase in mail-in voting during the pandemic.

Beyond the election, Zuckerberg addressed other employee concerns, including when they’d be asked to return to the office. While some Facebook content moderator contractors have been required to come back to offices in California and Texas, Facebook’s CEO said it was not a priority for full-time workers and that remote work “was the only responsible thing to do during a pandemic.”

On Monday, the Intercept reported that a Facebook contractor hired by Accenture who had returned to an office in Austin had contracted the novel coronavirus. That person is now in self-quarantine.

When prompted, Zuckerberg also discussed his views on a recent report from a House of Representatives subcommittee on antitrust issues. After noting that he thought Facebook existed in a competitive environment that included Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok, he said that his company would be adopting a policy that prevented employees from discussing antitrust issues on internal forums and messages.

He called a policy at Google that prohibits employees from discussing antitrust issues because of ongoing federal investigations “quite prudent” and noted that Facebook would be taking the same approach.

“Given that, you know, anything that any of you say internally is, of course, available to be subpoenaed or used in any of these investigations, I just think we should make sure that people aren’t just, you know, mouthing off about this and saying things that may reflect inaccurate data, or generally just are kind of incomplete,” he said, minutes after noting how Facebook stood for free expression. “You shouldn’t be emailing about these things and you shouldn’t really be discussing this in non-privileged forums across the company.”


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DOJ Files Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google Monopoly

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The Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against tech giant Google on Tuesday, arguing the company unlawfully maintains its monopoly over internet search dollars through anticompetitive practices.

For over a year, the DOJ has investigated Google, a company with a market value of $1 trillion and control of over 80% of internet searches in the country.

In a phone call with reporters, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen called Google the “gateway to the internet” and accused it of “exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.”

The lawsuit was filed jointly with 11 state attorneys general in federal court in Washington, DC.

“Two decades ago, Google became the darling of Silicon Valley as a scrappy
startup with an innovative way to search the emerging internet,” reads the complaint. “That Google is long gone.”

The lawsuit argues that by making itself the preset search engine on Android phones and paying billions to other companies — such as Apple, LG, and Motorola — to ensure it is the default search engine on their products, Google has cut off other competitors from ever having a chance to take a foothold in the market.

“Google no longer competes only on the merits but instead uses its monopoly power – and billions in monopoly profits – to lock up key pathways to search on mobile phones, browsers, and next generation devices, depriving rivals of distribution and scale,” Attorney General Bill Barr said in a statement. “The end result is that no one can feasibly challenge Google’s dominance in search and search advertising.”

The European Union has filed repeated antitrust lawsuits against Google since 2010.

In recent years, Google has accounted for 95% of all search queries on mobile devices. The DOJ argues that this stifles innovation and customer choice, but Google says it’s the customers who are choosing.

“Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed,” said a Google spokesperson. “People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”

Google has published an extensive response to the DOJ lawsuit, arguing that it is not pre-loaded on many devices and that it plans to fight the case.

“This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers,” it reads. “To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

For months, Barr has publicly spoken about his Google investigation. Rosen announced that Barr chose to focus on Google and other tech companies after “broad bipartisan concerns” were raising during his Senate confirmation hearings about the concentration of tech companies and their power.

President Donald Trump also baselessly accused Google last year of interfering in the 2016 election, tweeting “watch out Google” and “Google should be sued.”

But it’s not just the Trump administration who has been pushing for this. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has led progressive politicians in speaking out about the monopoly of tech companies.

“Two things can be true at the same time: Bill Barr is a corrupt Trump crony who should not be the Attorney General and the Justice Department has the power to pursue a legitimate, long-time coming suit against Google for engaging in anti-competitive, manipulative, and often illegal conduct,” wrote Warren in a Facebook post Monday. “The case against Google is clear and it must move forward without any political interference from AG Barr or Big Tech’s army of lobbyists.”

Accusing social media and tech companies of “bias” or supposed political censorship has been a constant claim of the right, including the president, whose own posts have been repeatedly flagged by Twitter and Facebook for spreading disinformation.

“This case has nothing to do with that subject,” said Rosen. “The antitrust case is very separate from the questions about social media and some other technology issues that are out there about skew or bias.”

The DOJ’s announcement comes just two weeks before the presidential election. But Rosen rejected the suggestion that the lawsuit was rushed out before the election.

“If anything, this is a situation where we might have preferred to be quicker but we wanted to make sure we’ve done the work that’s necessary,” said Rosen.

The last major antitrust lawsuit into a tech monopoly by the DOJ was Microsoft in 1998, the same year Google was founded.

“We could lose the next wave of innovation,” said Rosen, “If that happens, Americans may not get to see the next Google.”


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