For many years, the Federal Trade Commission has protected Americans on the internet with clear standards and strong enforcement against any unfair or deceptive practices online. The FTC is the lead federal consumer protection agency and has been a strong cop on the beat for our privacy. But in a classic case of the “law …View full post
Level 3 Communications is adding a new wrinkle to security services, introducing a new cloud-based service developed on next-generation firewall technology that has been built into its global network to replace on-premises security infrastructure. The Enterprise Security Gateway service is delivered from 40 Level 3 points of presence globally, can protect data on any device …View full post
$1.2 billion. According to a recently released study commissioned by NCTA, that’s how much cable’s video and Internet providers and programmers put toward corporate giving in 2014. The impact that kind of funding has on socially responsible programs is immeasurable, but what does that even look like? Our industry has long been a contributor to …View full post
Chicago Get Ready!! Emerging Tech Leaders’ Summit & Latinas Tech And Leaders Luncheon June 23rd -24th 2016.
Real Technology Leadership for the Next Generation Technology Professional The Emerging Tech Leaders’ Summit is coming to Chicago Illinois, this tech event is an action-packed summit where ideas flow freely and innovation rules. Innovation is driving every major industry with rapid advances. What are the effects on our community? What are the issues and …View full post
The following is an excerpt from The Business Blockchain: Promise, Practice, and Application of the Next Internet Technology by William Mougayar. In it, Mougayar waxes ecstatic about the future of distributed databases. At its core, the blockchain is a technology that permanently records transactions in a way that cannot be later erased but can only be sequentially …View full post
AT&T is the latest ISP to introduce packages tailored for qualified low-income homes. It’s a move that satisfies a condition of AT&T’s merger with DirecTV, which closed last July.Among those targeted conditions, the FCC called on AT&T to provide discounted standalone broadband offerings to low-income consumers in its wireline service area. The new program, called Access from …View full post
For many years, the Federal Trade Commission has protected Americans on the internet with clear standards and strong enforcement against any unfair or deceptive practices online. The FTC is the lead federal consumer protection agency and has been a strong cop on the beat for our privacy. But in a classic case of the “law of unintended consequences,” the FTC had the jurisdictional rug pulled from under its feet for a small portion of the internet — broadband providers — due to legal changes contained in the Open Internet rules passed last year.
As a result, the Federal Communications Commission — which regulates telecommunications — is now eager to put their footprint in this space by knitting a patchwork set of rules that would apply narrowly to broadband companies while exempting everyone else. In fact, the rules under consideration at the FCC would be a huge step backwards for consumers — confusing consumers and increasing the risk of abusive or discriminatory use of our data online.
And this is particularly dangerous for people of color who must be vigilant to ensure that the discrimination and redlining so common in the “brick and mortar” world does not infect the internet or deny our communities of equal opportunities online. Civil Rights leaders have warned for years of the risk that “Big Data” algorithms and online profiling could send communities of color to the back of the digital bus and lead to discrimination in health, education, employment or other vital aspects of our lives online.
Yet dangerously, the proposed FCC rules appear cavalierly unconcerned with these risks, and in fact would make them worse. The biggest problem is that, unlike the straightforward, understandable approach to online privacy that the FTC has used for years, the new FCC proposal would create an irrational patchwork with illogically heightened requirements for broadband providers.
It is simply not realistic to expect consumers to understand multiple different approaches to their privacy or to figure out how their data is being used when the rules change for different internet companies they deal with. The federal government is supposed to be making things comprehensible for consumers, not sending them through a gauntlet.
Mass consumer confusion created by government bureaucrats won’t protect privacy; it will make consumers simply give up — another damning case of the law of unintended consequences where rules intended to give more protection gum up the works so badly that they end up offering less. The sophistry from which all this confusion and frustration will flow is the false notion that broadband providers pose a special risk to privacy and need a different set of rules.
In fact, extensive research shows that broadband providers have no unique or heightened access to consumer data that would justify different rules. Instead the opposite seems true. Who has more sensitive information about you — the banking, health, and social media companies you have accounts with or the broadband company that simply moves data around the web? This is particularly true as data encryption becomes the norm. By the end of this year 70 percent of internet data will be encrypted and completely unreadable by broadband companies that carry it. Websites and applications like Facebook, Google, and Amazon on the other hand have free rein because they are “inside” the encryption wall and want to know what you are doing and saying to answer your searches or sell you the right products.
Broadband providers have less reach for other reasons. They offer only a narrow, geographically limited service, while the website, application, and social media companies are with us everywhere we go, including at work, home, or on our mobile phones, our broadband provider is stuck in just one place and only “touches” a small amount of our data.
Instead of an inconsistent patchwork based on false assumptions and a misreading of the privacy threat, the FCC can and should step back and put consumers ahead of this jurisdictional land grab and learn from the success of the FTC approach that puts consumers in the driver’s seat rather than in a maze. And that has the sensitivity and flexibility to identify and weed out more subtle forms of data-driven discrimination online that communities of color are in the best position to spot.
Protecting consumer privacy online is challenging under any circumstances — the FCC should stand down from this dangerous attempt to make it even more confusing and complex.
Amy Hinojosa is the President and CEO of MANA, A National Latina Organization, the oldest and largest Latina membership organization in the United States.
Level 3 Communications is adding a new wrinkle to security services, introducing a new cloud-based service developed on next-generation firewall technology that has been built into its global network to replace on-premises security infrastructure. The Enterprise Security Gateway service is delivered from 40 Level 3 points of presence globally, can protect data on any device and is available to subscribers of any carrier.
The new service moves the security perimeter from the enterprise itself to the Level 3 network: One of its key goals is to address the rising costs of security for enterprises, which currently spend up to 60% of their IT dollars on that one function, says Chris Richter, senior vice president of global security services for Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) It covers a range of security issues including anti-malware with sandboxing, data loss protection, application awareness and enforcement and next-generation firewall.
“This new service is very powerful in ability to stop, block and detect attacks,” he commented. “We have the horsepower, the network reach, the global reach, so we thought, ‘Why not roll out gateways and create a virtualized, powerful high-performance next-gen security capability?’ “
Instead of deploying on-premises security hardware and employing IT security specialists, enterprises are given a detailed portal through which they have complete visibility of what is happening in their network, and can receive reports and gateway performance data, including a view of traffic the gateway is blocking. Customers also have the ability to change their security settings on-demand and add new services as needed.
The ESG service is the latest in Level 3′s security services push, which has started with a major distributed denial of service mitigation service and has expanded from there. (See Bargain Botnets Fuel Level 3′s Expansion, Level 3 Offers Secure Cellular Internet Access, Level 3 Brings Volume to DDoS Mitigation and Level 3 Elevates Security With Black Lotus.)
According to Richter, ESG represents Level 3′s “biggest product investment this year.”
That investment put high-powered redundant next-gen firewall chassis in each of Level 3′s 40 points of presence globally, along with massive routing and switching capabilities, Richter says. It also funded creation of two sandboxing infrastructures, one in North America and one in Europe, into which go snapshots of very packet that comes through the network with executable files or PDFs or other possible documents. If there is an indication of malware in them, Level 3 writes a signature against that malware to update its gateways on a constant basis, and notifies the customer of the quarantined traffic.
From its five global security centers, Level 3 provides around-the-clock access to security experts to resolve any issues. The carrier also makes constant use of its threat access information to update the security offerings.
Customers that are using other broadband service providers can access the Level 3 ESG through secure IPSec or GRE tunnels and get the same protection, Richter says. “This is carrier agnostic — you don’t have to buy a network service from us to get the benefits of the security service,” he says. “We haven’t see anything like this at other carriers,” he adds.
$1.2 billion. According to a recently released study commissioned by NCTA, that’s how much cable’s video and Internet providers and programmers put toward corporate giving in 2014. The impact that kind of funding has on socially responsible programs is immeasurable, but what does that even look like? Our industry has long been a contributor to philanthropic efforts, but until now, there hasn’t been much information about what that impact translates to. Where is the money going? Who is it helping? And how is it making our lives and communities any better?
The report, Measuring the Philanthropy of the Cable Industry, helps to answer these questions by offering a glimpse of initiatives that are taking off, community partnerships we have forged, and the empowerment that has resulted among groups and organizations across the country. The report found that in-kind contributions, direct cash giving, employee volunteerism, and employee-matching gift donations comprised the bulk of cable’s giving, and that the program area with the most support was equality and diversity. Giving a voice to diverse audiences ranked as number one, followed by community and economic development, education, and disaster relief.
Let’s hone in a bit on equality and diversity to get a better picture of how programmers and operators are influencing the nation’s landscape. On this front, Scripps Networks Interactive and Viacom are among the companies that have led the charge towards building a more inclusive society through the following initiatives.
For its Leading Women Defined annual conference, BET encourages leadership among black female audiences through a focus on education, leadership, health and activism for women and girls. During this conference, the achievements of prominent African-American women in the business are highlighted and celebrated, but more importantly, leaders gather to engage in discussing solutions that will positively impact the African-American community on a national scale.
In support of LGBT rights, Viacom joins in GLAAD’s Spirit Day to speak out against the bullying and injustices that occur against LGBT youth and individuals. On Spirit Day, which generally occurs in October, participants wear purple and share messages and stories in schools, media outlets and on social media to spread awareness about the bullying, discrimination and challenges faced by the transgender community. MTV also launched the Look Different campaign, a combination of on-air, digital and social media content that examines the consequences of the hidden biases and discriminatory transgressions in our society today against LGBT and minority populations.
To combat child hunger, Scripps partners with Share Our Strength and its No Kid Hungry initiative. The Food network aired a documentary that informed audiences about the hunger crises, and in addition to that Scripps helped to build food gardens in partnership with community organizers and businesses, and to organize nutrition education for at-risk families.
On a different front, there are many cable operators connecting with local communities in an effort to assist veterans, schools, and homeless populations. Charter is one that has a large volunteer system that encourages employees to take social action in the communities in which they live through rebuilding homes for people in need, such as repairing a residence for people with developmental disabilities and making it into a healthier and safer environment. Midco is another whose foundation has awarded over $100,000 in grants to various nonprofits, schools and government organizations in rural areas in which it serves, with the donations going towards things like hygiene supplies for a hospital, a dash cam system for a police department, and educational activities for a youth center. And Comcast, in celebrating the company’s year-long commitment to service, holds Comcast Cares Day each year, the nation’s largest single-day corporate volunteer event. Last year, 100,000 volunteers participated in improvement projects in over 900 parks, schools, beaches, senior centers and various community sites.
Operators are also focused on providing digital literacy training and bringing connectivity to those that don’t have the luxury of high-speed broadband at their fingertips through partnerships with organizations like TechLatino: Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association. Comcast’s Internet Essentials is a program that has helped over 2.4 million low-income Americans connect to the Internet from inside their homes and has provided more than $280 million of support for digital literacy training. Cox’s Connect2Compete program is another initiative that helps families with school children receiving federal assistance obtain discounted Internet services, giving kids the connectivity they need to complete their homework and to continue their learning outside of the classroom.
This is just a fraction of the work that is being done. There are numerous companies promoting activism for health and social service issues, those working to preserve culture and the arts, and others with a focus on civic and public affairs. There are few industries that connect so many people in the wide range of economic, age, and gender demographics than Internet service providers and cable programmers do, and even fewer that can have such a wide impact on their perceptions, education, health, civic and personal lives. These are also the same people who, as consumers, have helped the new media economy grow and whose diverse perspectives continue to fuel the ever-evolving digital and television worlds. It only makes sense then for cable operators and networks to come together and use that influence to give back to the communities and people that helped them grow.
$1.2 billion is definitely a noteworthy feat, but the work is never done. As the saying goes, it takes a village, and we will continue to serve as catalysts for change by leveraging the resources and sharing the inspiring stories found throughout our diverse companies.
The following is an excerpt from The Business Blockchain: Promise, Practice, and Application of the Next Internet Technology by William Mougayar. In it, Mougayar waxes ecstatic about the future of distributed databases.
At its core, the blockchain is a technology that permanently records transactions in a way that cannot be later erased but can only be sequentially updated, in essence keeping a never-ending historical trail. This seemingly simple functional description has gargantuan implications. It is making us rethink the old ways of creating transactions, storing data, and moving assets, and that’s only the beginning.
The blockchain cannot be described just as a revolution. It is a tsunami-like phenomenon, slowly advancing and gradually enveloping everything along its way by the force of its progression. Plainly, it is the second significant overlay on top of the Internet, just as the Web was that first layer back in 1990. That new layer is mostly about trust, so we could call it the trust layer.
Blockchains are enormous catalysts for change that affect governance, ways of life, traditional corporate models, society and global institutions. Blockchain infiltration will be met with resistance, because it is an extreme change.
Blockchains defy old ideas that have been locked in our minds for decades, if not centuries. Blockchains will challenge governance and centrally controlled ways of enforcing transactions. For example, why pay an escrow to clear a title insurance if the blockchain can automatically check it in an irrefutable way?
Blockchains loosen up trust, which has been in the hands of central institutions (e.g., banks, policy makers, clearinghouses, governments, large corporations), and allows it to evade these old control points. For example, what if counterparty validation can be done on the blockchain, instead of by a clearinghouse?
An analogy would be when, in the 16th century, medieval guilds helped to maintain monopolies on certain crafts against outsiders, by controlling the printing of knowledge that would explain how to copy their work. They accomplished that type of censorship by being in cahoots with the Catholic Church and governments in most European countries that regulated and controlled printing by requiring licenses. That type of central control and monopoly didn’t last too long, and soon enough, knowledge was free to travel after an explosion in printing. To think of printing knowledge as an illegal activity would be unfathomable today. We could think of the traditional holders of central trust as today’s guilds, and we could question why they should continue holding that trust, if technology (the blockchain) performed that function as well or even better.
Blockchains liberate the trust function from outside existing boundaries in the same way as medieval institutions were forced to cede control of printing.
It is deceptive to view the blockchain primarily as a distributed ledger, because it represents only one of its many dimensions. It’s like describing the Internet as a network only, or as just a publishing platform. These are necessary but not sufficient conditions or properties; blockchains are also greater than the sum of their parts.
Blockchain proponents believe that trust should be free, and not in the hands of central forces that tax it, or control it in one form or another (e.g., fees, access rights, or permissions). They believe that trust can be and should be part of peer-to-peer relationships, facilitated by technology that can enforce it. Trust can be coded up, and it can be computed to be true or false by way of mathematically-backed certainty, that is enforced by powerful encryption to cement it. In essence, trust is replaced by cryptographic proofs, and trust is maintained by a network of trusted computers (honest nodes) that ensure its security, as contrasted with single entities who create overhead or unnecessary bureaucracy around it.
If blockchains are a new way to implement trusted transactions without trusted intermediaries, soon we’ll end up with intermediary-less trust. Policy makers who regulated “trusted” institutions like banks will face a dilemma. How can you regulate something that is evaporating? They will need to update their old regulations.
Intermediary-controlled trust came with some friction, but now, with the blockchain, we can have frictionless trust. So, when trust is “free” (even if it still needs to be earned), what happens next? Naturally, trust will follow the path of least resistance, and will become gradually decentralized towards the edges of the network.
Blockchains also enable assets and value to be exchanged, providing a new, speedy rail for moving value of all kinds without unnecessary intermediaries.
As back-end infrastructure, blockchains are metaphorically the ultimate, non-stop computers. Once launched, they never go down, because of the incredible amount of resiliency they offer.
There is no single point of failure unlike how bank systems have gone down, cloud-based services have gone down, but bona fide blockchains keep computing.
The Internet was about replacing some intermediaries. Now the blockchain is about replacing other intermediaries once again. But it’s also about creating new ones. And so was the Web. Current intermediaries will need to figure out how their roles will be affected, while others are angling to take a piece of the new pie in the race to “decentralize everything.”
The world is preoccupied with dissecting, analyzing and prognosticating on the blockchain’s future; technologists, entrepreneurs, and enterprises are wondering if it is to be considered vitamin or poison.
Today, we’re saying blockchain does this or that, but tomorrow blockchains will be rather invisible; we will talk more about what they enable. Just like the Internet or the Web, and just like data-bases, the blockchain brings with it a new language.
From the mid-1950s forward, as IT evolved, we became accustomed to a new language: mainframes, databases, networks, servers, software, operating systems, and programming languages. Since the early 1990s, the Internet ushered in another lexicon: browsing, website, Java, blogging, TCP/IP, SMTP, HTTP, URLs, and HTML. Today, the blockchain brings with it yet another new repertoire: consensus algorithms, smart contracts, distributed ledgers, oracles, digital wallets, and transaction blocks.
Block by block, we will accumulate our own chains of knowledge, and we will learn and understand the blockchain, what it changes, and the implications of such change.
Today, we Google for everything, mostly information or products.
Tomorrow, we will perform the equivalent of “googling” to verify records, identities, authenticity, rights, work done, titles, contracts, and other valuable asset-related processes. There will be digital ownership certificates for everything. Just like we cannot double spend digital money anymore (thanks to Satoshi Nakamoto’s invention), we will not be able to double copy or forge official certificates once they are certified on a blockchain. That was a missing piece of the information revolution, which the blockchain fixes.
I still remember the initial excitement around being able to track a shipped package on the Web when FedEx introduced this capability for the first time in 1994. Today, we take that type of service for granted, but this particular feature was a watershed use case that demonstrated what we could do on the early Web. The underlying message was that a previously enclosed private service could become openly accessible by anyone with Internet access. A whole host of services followed: online banking, filing taxes, buying products, trading stocks, checking on orders, and many others. Just as we access services that search public databases, we will search a new class of services that will check blockchains to confirm the veracity of information. Information access will not be enough. We will also want to ask for truth access, and we will ask if modifications were made to particular records, expecting the utmost transparency from those who hold them. The blockchain promises to serve up and expose transparency in its rawest forms.
The old question “Is it in the database?” will be replaced by “Is it on the blockchain?”
Is the blockchain more complicated than the Web? Most definitely.
The blockchain is part of the history of the Internet. It is at the same level as the World Wide Web in terms of importance, and arguably might give us back the Internet, in the way it was supposed to be: more decentralized, more open, more secure, more private, more equitable, and more accessible. Ironically, many blockchain applications also have a shot at replacing legacy Web applications, at the same time as they will replace legacy businesses that cannot loosen their grips on heavy-handed centrally enforced trust functions.
No matter how it unfolds, the blockchain’s history will continue to be written for a very long time, just as the history of the Web continued to be written well after its initial invention. But here’s what will make the blockchain’s future even more interesting: you are part of it.
Reprinted from The Business Blockchain: Promise, Practice, and Application of the Next Internet Technology by William Mougayar (foreword from Vitalik Buterin) with permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Copyright (C) William Mougayar, 2016.
It’s a move that satisfies a condition of AT&T’s merger with DirecTV, which closed last July.Among those targeted conditions, the FCC called on AT&T to provide discounted standalone broadband offerings to low-income consumers in its wireline service area.
The new program, called Access from AT&T, supports three different speed tiers – 10 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up, 5 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up, and 3 Mbps down/1 Mbps upstream. The 10-meg and 5-meg options will cost $10 per month, while the 3 Mbps tier will sell for $5 per month.
Per a Web site about the program, service availability and speed will vary by address, though AT&T said it will assign customers the fastest of the speed tiers available at their particular address.
Access to the program is limited to homes within AT&T’s 21-state wireline high-speed internet footprint with at least one resident participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). AT&T has set up a Web site where consumers can access a SNAP application.
AT&T said it will also waive installation and Internet equipment fees to homes participating in the program. The program includes an in-home WiFi modem and access to about 30,000 AT&T WiFi hotspots.
Per the fine print, the services will also be subject to AT&T’s monthly data policy (150 gigabytes or 250 GB depending on the speed tier. If users exceed those ceilings during the month, they’ll be charged $10 for each additional bucket of 50 GB.
Update: Starting May 23, monthly data allowances for U-verse customers will increase. At that time, Access from AT&T speeds will include a monthly data allowance of either 150 GB, 300 GB or 600 GB of data per month, depending on the type and speed of service those customers receive, said the company, which is also set to launch new unlimited data plans.
“We’re making it easier for more people to connect to friends, family, their communities and the possibilities of the Internet,” said Cheryl Choy, vice president wired voice and broadband products at AT&T, in a statement. “Access from AT&T is an affordable Internet option available to millions of Americans with limited budgets.”
Update: AT&T’s launch was also praised by FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “Our noble goal of connecting communities with affordable broadband alternatives, will ultimately be realized through targeted and innovative initiatives, both public and private,” she said, in a statement. “This is why I am pleased to witness the launch of Access from AT&T, an affordable broadband option open to any member of a household that participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. I look forward to seeing how this program helps to close the opportunity divide by getting more consumers and communities connected to high speed Internet services.”
AT&T joins other ISPs that offer similar programs.
For example, Comcast has Internet Essentials, a voluntary commitment linked to its acquisition of NBCUniversal, provides high-speed Internet service (up to 10 Mbps downstream) to those who qualify for $9.95 per month, plus computer equipment (less than $150) and free Internet training. Last month, Comcast announced that the program connects more than 600,000 low-income families.
Cox Communications has more than 160,000 people on board with Conenct2Compete, its offering for qualified low-income homes that also costs $9.95 per month.
WHEN PRESIDENT OBAMA announced his support last week for a Federal Communications Commission plan to open the market for cable set-top boxes — a big win for consumers, but also for Google — the cable and telecommunications giants who used to have a near-stranglehold on tech policy were furious. AT&T chief lobbyist Jim Cicconi lashed out at what he called White House intervention on behalf of “the Google proposal.” He’s hardly the first to suggest that the Obama administration has become too close to the Silicon Valley juggernaut. Over the past seven years, Google has created a remarkable partnership with the Obama White House, providing expertise, services, advice, and personnel for vital government projects. Precisely how much influence this buys Google isn’t always clear. But consider that over in the European Union, Google is now facing two major antitrust charges for abusing its dominance in mobile operating systems and search. By contrast, in the U.S., a strong case to sanction Google was quashed by a presidentially appointed commission. It’s a relationship that bears watching. “Americans know surprisingly little about what Google wants and gets from our government,” said Anne Weismann, executive director of Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit watchdog organization. Seeking to change that, Weismann’s group is spearheading a data transparency project about Google’s interactions in Washington. The Intercept teamed up with Campaign for Accountability to present two revealing data sets from that forthcoming project: one on the number of White House meetings attended by Google representatives, and the second on the revolving door between Google and the government. As the interactive charts accompanying this article show, Google representatives attended White House meetings more than once a week, on average, from the beginning of Obama’s presidency through October 2015. Nearly 250 people have shuttled from government service to Google employment or vice versa over the course of his administration.
The information, Weismann said, “will help the public learn more about the company’s influence on our government, our policies, and our lives.” Asked to respond, Google spokesperson Riva Litman referred The Intercept to a blog postwritten when the Wall Street Journal raised similar questions a year ago. In that post, Google said the meetings covered a host of topics, including patent reform, STEM education, internet censorship, cloud computing, trade and investment, and smart contact lenses. The company also claimed to have counted similar numbers of visits to the White House by Microsoft and Comcast — but it did not explain its methodology for parsing the data. Google’s dramatic rise as a lobbying force has not gone unnoticed. The company paid almost no attention to the Washington influence game prior to 2007, but ramped up steeply thereafter. It spent $16.7 million in lobbying in 2015, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and has been at or near the top of public companies in lobbying expenses since 2012. But direct expenditures on lobbying represent only one part of the larger influence-peddling game. Google’s lobbying strategy also includes throwing lavish D.C. parties; making grants to trade groups, advocacy organizations, and think tanks; offering free services and training to campaigns, congressional offices, and journalists; and using academics as validators for the company’s public policy positions. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, was an enthusiastic supporter of both of Obama’s presidential campaigns and has been a major Democratic donor. For its part, the Obama administration — attempting to project a brand of innovative, post-partisan problem-solving of issues that have bedeviled government for decades — has welcomed and even come to depend upon its association with one of America’s largest tech companies. GOOGLE DOESN’T JUST lobby the White House for favors, but collaborates with officials, effectively serving as a sort of corporate extension of government operations in the digital era. In just the past few years, Google has provided diplomatic assistance to the administration through expanding internet access in Cuba; collaborated with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring Google Fiber into public housing; used Google resources to monitor droughts in real time; and even captured 360-degree views of White House interiors. But perhaps most salient here is the fact that modern life requires so much information technology support that a sprawling operation like the White House has turned to tech companies — often in the form of ex-Google employees — when faced with pressing IT needs. Practically every part of the government makes available some form of technology, whether it’s the public-facing website for a federal agency, a digital mechanism for people to access benefits, or a new communications tool for espionage or war. Somebody has to build and manage those projects, and Silicon Valley firms have the expertise needed to do that. White House officials have publicly asked Silicon Valley for aid in stopping terrorists from recruiting via social media, securing the internet of things, thwarting cyberattacks, modernizing the Defense Department, and generally updating all their technology. We can reasonably expect yet more things are being asked for behind closed doors.
In Time magazine, Steven Brill detailed one of those meetings, between Park and Gabriel Burt, the chief technology officer at Eric Schmidt’s Civis Analytics. Civis was already working on Obamacare as a vendor for Enroll America, a nonprofit tasked with getting people subscribed on the insurance exchanges. Civis used reams of data to target communities with high levels of uninsured Americans so Enroll America could contact them. But now the site where they were supposed to sign up wasn’t working. So the White House turned to Civis for help with that as well. Eventually, Mikey Dickerson, a site-reliability engineer with Google who previously worked on the Obama campaign, got hired to fix the site. Burt and Dickerson worked together to “form a rescue squad” for HealthCare.gov, according to Time. And most of the recruits came from Google. Later, Dickerson led the U.S. Digital Service, a new agency whose mission was to fix other technology problems in the federal government. Ex-Google staffers were prevalent there as well. Dickerson attended nine White House meetings with Google personnel while working for the government between 2013 and 2014. Meetings between Google and the White House, viewed in this context, sometimes function like calls to the IT Help Desk. Only instead of working for the same company, the government is supposed to be regulating Google as a private business, not continually asking it for favors. Much of this collaboration could be considered public-minded — it’s hard to argue with the idea that the government should seek outside technical help when it requires it. And there’s no evidence of a quid pro quo. But this arrangement doesn’t have to result in outright corruption to be troubling. The obvious question that arises is: Can government do its job with respect to regulating Google in the public interest if it owes the company such a debt of gratitude? Google doesn’t think its activities present an antitrust problem. It doesn’t feel constrained from holding incredible amounts of data. But should Google be in a position to make that determination itself? How much influence is too much influence? Another potential conflict arises from the enormous amount of data that Google and the government each have stored on American citizens. Google recently acknowledged having mined the data of student users of its education apps, and has been accused repeatedly of violating user privacyin other contexts. An overly close partnership risks Google putting its data in the government’s hands or gaining access to what the government has collected. When the federal government and a private company share the same worldview, get the same insights from the same groups of people, the policy drift can occur with nobody explicitly choosing the direction. It just seems like the right thing to do. And there is no doubt that Google’s rise in Washington has coincided with public policy that is friendlier to the company. Most notably, Google has faced questions for years about exercising its market power to squash rivals, infringing on its users’ privacy rights, favoring its own business affiliates in search results, and using patent law to create barriers to competition. Even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch have called out Google for its practices. In 2012, staff at the Federal Trade Commission recommended filing antitrust charges after determining that Google was engaging in anti-competitive tactics and abusing its monopoly. A staff report that was later leaked said Google’s conduct “has resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.” The Wall Street Journal noted that Google’s White House visits increased right around that time. And in 2013, the presidentially appointed commissioners of the FTC overrode their staff, voting unanimously not to file any charges. Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the administration “has been a huge help” to Google both by protecting it from attempts to limit its market power and by blocking privacy legislation. “Google has been able to thwart regulatory scrutiny in terms of anti-competitive practices, and has played a key role in ensuring that the United States doesn’t protect at all the privacy of its citizens and its consumers,” Chester said.
At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, citing the possibility of consumer harm, called on the FTC to reconsider the kind of antitrust charges against Google recently filed in Europe.
But Obama has argued that European regulators are being too aggressive toward Google out of a desire to protect companies that aren’t as capable. “In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else,” he told Re/code in February. “We have owned the internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it, in ways they can’t compete.”
Comcast today announced the launch of the Xfinity TV Partner Program to expand the range of retail devices its customers can use to access their Xfinity TV service. Leveraging open standard technologies, such as HTML5, the Xfinity TV Partner Program provides a common framework to which smart TV, TV-connected and IP-enabled retail device manufacturers can build to make the Xfinity TV Partner app available to eligible customers in Comcast markets without the need to lease a set-top box from Comcast.
As a result of Comcast’s new partnership with Samsung Electronics Co, Ltd., the first smart TV manufacturer to sign up for the program, Comcast customers will soon be able to access their Xfinity TV cable service in the home via the Xfinity TV Partner app on 2016 Samsung Smart TVs.
“Comcast has long partnered with Samsung to bring our customers advanced, high-quality entertainment viewing experiences, and we are thrilled to have them on board to help launch this exciting program,” said Mark Hess, Senior Vice President, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, Business and Industry Affairs, Comcast Cable. “We remain committed to giving our customers more choice in how, when and where they access their subscription, and the Xfinity TV Partner Program enables us to efficiently and effectively expand the range of devices our customers can utilize to do that.”
Available later this year, the Xfinity TV Partner app will provide Samsung Smart TV customers with access to Xfinity’s Emmy Award-winning guide and live and on demand programming, including local broadcast, cable and Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) channels, as well as their cloud DVR recordings.
“Samsung is excited to collaborate with Comcast in new and innovative ways to deliver content into the homes of our customers,” said Won Jin Lee, Executive Vice President, Samsung Electronics. “Samsung is focused on delivering the highest quality experience to our consumers while providing them with a variety of choices to access their favorite content. This year, with our new Smart TV interface, it’s easier than ever for Comcast subscribers to find and enjoy their favorite TV shows, movies and on demand services.”
The new Xfinity TV Partner app is not an over-the-top product or Internet streaming service. It will enable Xfinity TV customers to receive their Xfinity TV cable service on connected TVs and other IP-enabled third-party devices. Partners who are interested in including the new app on their devices should visithttps://developer.xfinity.com/cableapp or contact Comcast directly via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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