Australia plans laws to make social networks identify trolls

Australia could soon make life difficult for internet trolls — if at a significant cost. Reutersreports Prime Minister Scott Morrison has unveiled plans for legislation that, in some cases, could force social networks to reveal the identities of trolls and others making defamatory comments. A complaint mechanism would require online platforms to take these hostile posts down. If they don't, the court system could order a given site to provide details of the offending poster.

Morrison likened the current internet to a "Wild West" where anonymous attackers could "harm people." If that can't happen in real life, there's "no case" for it happening online, the Prime Minister said.

The proposed laws come weeks after Australia's High Court ruled media companies could be held liable for comments on Facebook posts. CNNlimited access to its Facebook pages in the country over those liability concerns. The intended legislation would take this a step further by mandating certain actions if a post is deemed harmful.

The move raises privacy questions. Anonymity might help trolls, but it also protects political dissenters and other innocuous critics — will Australia make sure any identity disclosure laws aren't used to discourage challenges to authority, as they are in China? And without examples of the legislation, it's unclear just what would constitute an offense serious enough to warrant revealing an identity.

Australia plans laws to make social networks identify trolls

Australia could soon make life difficult for internet trolls — if at a significant cost. Reutersreports Prime Minister Scott Morrison has unveiled plans for legislation that, in some cases, could force social networks to reveal the identities of trolls and others making defamatory comments. A complaint mechanism would require online platforms to take these hostile posts down. If they don't, the court system could order a given site to provide details of the offending poster.

Morrison likened the current internet to a "Wild West" where anonymous attackers could "harm people." If that can't happen in real life, there's "no case" for it happening online, the Prime Minister said.

The proposed laws come weeks after Australia's High Court ruled media companies could be held liable for comments on Facebook posts. CNNlimited access to its Facebook pages in the country over those liability concerns. The intended legislation would take this a step further by mandating certain actions if a post is deemed harmful.

The move raises privacy questions. Anonymity might help trolls, but it also protects political dissenters and other innocuous critics — will Australia make sure any identity disclosure laws aren't used to discourage challenges to authority, as they are in China? And without examples of the legislation, it's unclear just what would constitute an offense serious enough to warrant revealing an identity.

NYC bill bans AI recruiting tools that fail bias checks

New York City could soon reduce the chances of AI bias in the job market. The Associated Pressnotes the city's council has passed a bill barring AI hiring systems that don't pass yearly audits checking for race- or gender-based discrimination. Developers would also need greater transparency (including disclosures of automated systems), and provide alternatives like human reviews. Fines would reach up to $1,500 per incident.

The bill was passed November 10th. Departing Mayor Bill de Blasio has a month to sign it into law, but hasn't said whether or not he will. If the measure goes forward, it would take effect in 2023.

A signed law could reduce the chances that AI hiring technology skews candidate pools and the demographics of the resulting employees. Pro-business organizations like the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce are already in favor, suggesting the disclosures are vital for both employers and their talent.

However, there are already concerns an enacted law wouldn't help as much as promised. The Center for Democracy & Technology's Alexandra Givens told the AP the bill doesn't account for other biases, such as ableism or ageism. This also assumes the audits are effective — New York University's Julia Stoyanovich argued the requirements were "very easy to meet." There's a concern the legislation might inadvertently shield employers whose AI platforms have different or harder-to-detect biases.

Biden signs law blocking Huawei and ZTE from receiving FCC licenses

US President Joe Biden has signed into law the Secure Equipment Act that blocks companies like Huawei and ZTE from receiving network licenses. The new rules mean the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) can no longer consider any applications for network equipment that may pose a national security threat, Reuters has reported. 

With the measure, the FCC can no longer issue or review licenses to companies on the FCC's "Covered Equipment or Services List." It was passed by a 420-4 House vote and approved unanimously by the US Senate last month. "We have already determined that this gear poses an unacceptable risk to our national security, so closing what I have called the ‘Huawei loophole’ is an appropriate action for us to take," said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. 

We have already determined that this gear poses an unacceptable risk to our national security, so closing what I have called the ‘Huawei loophole’ is an appropriate action for us to take.

The FCC formally designated ZTE and Huawei as national security threats last year, finding that the companies had close ties to Chinese Communist Party. However, they were still able to apply for licenses as long as no federal funds were involved. To that end, Carr has been pushing legislators to pass the Secure Equipment Act. 

"Once we have determined that Huawei or other gear poses an unacceptable national security risk, it makes no sense to allow that exact same equipment to be purchased and inserted into our communications networks as long as federal dollars are not involved. The presence of these insecure devices in our networks is the threat, not the source of funding used to purchase them," Carr said back in March. 

Earlier this year, the FCC launched a $1.9 billion "rip and replace" program to help US telecoms replace Huawei and ZTE equipment they may be using. House member Steve Scalise last last week that "Huawei and ZTE "are probably the two most prominent companies that still have a lot of equipment out there where Americans’ data runs across those networks."

Huawei has yet to comment on the legislation, but last summer called the FCC's proposed revision "misguided and unnecessarily punitive." Joe Biden is expected to speak with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in in a "virtual summit" tentatively set for next Monday. 

Congress mandates anti-drunk driving technology for cars

Congress is making its biggest push ever to stop drunk driving with President Biden's huge infrastructure bill. As we previously reported, one of the provisions included a mandate for anti-drunk driving technology in new cars. Now, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has passed Congress with the measure intact, Autoblog (AP) reports, and it's expected to be signed by the President soon. As part of the legislation, carmakers will have to include technology to detect and stop drunk drivers by as early as 2026.

First, though, the Department of Transportation will have to determine the best solution to curtail intoxicated drunk driving. Specifically, the bill requires something that will “passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired.” That sounds similar to infrared camera solutions already used today by GM, Nissan and others, Sam Abuelsamid, principal mobility analyst for Guidehouse Insights, tells the AP. It goes without saying that we'd need something more advanced than breathalyzers, which are already used as a punishment for convicted drunken drivers.

Around 10,000 people die every year in the US from drunk driving accidents, the NHTSA says. Now that we have smarter sensors and plenty of camera technology to monitor driver behavior, it makes sense to explore solutions that could help prevent those sorts of accidents. Within a decade, it should feel as commonplace as seatbelts. 

The infrastructure bill also includes other safety measures, like rear seat reminders that could notify parents about children left in carseats. Additionally, Congress will also require automatic emergency braking and lane departure warnings, features that many new cars already offer. It's unclear when true self-driving cars will be a reality, but until then, at least human drivers can look forward to more ways to prevent accidents. 

US and China will cooperate to limit climate change this decade

The US and China are at odds on many fronts, but climate change might not be one of them. The Washington Postreports the two countries have issued a joint pledge at COP26 to limit global warming during the 2020s. Both nations said they recognized a gap between current actions and the Paris agreement target of keeping that warming below 2C, and ideally no higher than 1.5C.

The exact terms weren't available as of this writing, but US climate envoy John Kerry said China committed to reducing methane emissions and coal use "as fast as is achievable." China wouldn't, however, join a US-Europe initiative to cut methane emissions by a third no later than 2030.

Whether or not this translates to meaningful action is far from clear. China has made some efforts to promote electric vehicles and reduce coal dependence, but it's still the largest contributor to emissions and hasn't radically reduced its harmful output. It also hasn't had much of a presence at COP26, with President Xi Jinping declining to show up where US President Joe Biden was happy to attend.

The US isn't immune to problems, either. While the Biden administration has promised to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and spur EV adoption, there's no guarantee it can pass legislation needed to honor its side of the pledge. That's also assuming the next White House doesn't undo previous environmental efforts.

It's still rare to see the US and China agree on climate change issues, though, and the very existence of the pledge represents progress for China. The country hadn't previously acknowledged the impact of methane on global warming, for instance. That suggests China is at least aware of the scope of the problem, even if there's a long way to go before it addresses that problem.

Court rules that Apple can’t push back ordered App Store payment changes

Apple has failed to convince US District c to delay the App Store change she ordered back in September. As the judge for the Apple vs. Epic trial, Rogers ruled in favor of the tech giant for 9 out of 10 counts, but she also decided that Apple must allow developers to direct users to other payment systems within their apps by December 9th. As a response to that, Apple asked for a stay on the injunction to push back its implementation by one more year. Now, Rogers has rejected the company's appeal for a stay and called the motion "fundamentally flawed."

She wrote in the order (PDF, via CNBC):

"...Apple's motion is based on a selective reading of this Court's findings and ignores all of the findings which supported the injunction, namely incipient antitrust conduct including supercompetitive commission rates resulting in extraordinarily high operating margins and which have not been correlated to the value of its intellectual property."

Apple argued that it needed more time to establish new guidelines to protect users, developers and itself if it allows alternative payment methods. It also previously said that following the court order and allowing developers to link out to other payment methods by December 9th "would be a poor use of resources" due to the "near-inevitable litigation" from Epic regarding the scope of its compliance. In addition, it's still appealing this aspect of the case, and the Court of Appeals could take more than a year to come to a decision.

In her ruling, Rogers said that the party that would benefit most from a stay would be Apple, and that the court can "envision numerous avenues" for the tech giant to comply while still protecting its users. "Other than, perhaps, needing time to establish Guidelines, Apple has provided no credible reason for the Court to believe that the injunction would cause the professed devastation," she added. Despite the court's decision, Apple hasn't given up: It will ask San Francisco's federal appeals court to put Rogers's order on hold.

As CNBC has noted, allowing developers to link out to external payment methods doesn't mean Apple won't be taking a percentage of their earnings. Google, for instance, recently announced that it will now allow the use of alternative payment systems for Play Store apps in South Korea to comply with local laws. While it lowered its commission by four percent for developers using their own payment processors, they will still have to pay the company a cut nonetheless.

Bipartisan bill seeks to curb recommendation algorithms

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers has introduced legislation that would give people more control over the algorithms that shape their online experience. If passed, the Filter Bubble Transparency Act would require companies like Meta to offer a version of their platforms that runs on an "input-transparent" algorithm that doesn't pull on user data to generate recommendations.

The bill would not do away with "opaque" recommendation algorithms altogether but would make it a requirement to include a toggle that allows people to switch that functionality off. Additionally, platforms that continue to use recommendation algorithms need to have a notification that informs people those recommendations are based on inferences generated by their personal data. The prompt can be a one-time notice, but it would need to be presented in a "clear, conspicuous manner," according to the proposed bill.

The legislation was introduced by Representatives Ken Buck (R-CO), David Cicilline (D-RI), Lori Trahan (D-MA) and Burgess Owens (R-UT). It's a companion bill to legislation Senators John Thune of South Dakota and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced this past June. "Consumers should have the option to engage with internet platforms without being manipulated by secret algorithms driven by user-specific data," Buck told Axios, the first outlet to report on the legislation.

Lawmakers have frequently criticized social media giants for using recommendation algorithms to boost user engagement, but so far, there's been little legislative action to curb their use. In the aftermath of the January 6th US Capitol attack, a group of more than 30 Democratic lawmakers called on Meta (then known as Facebook), Twitter and YouTube to make substantive changes to their recommendation engines but ultimately stopped short of threatening regulatory action. Although the Filter Bubble Transparency Act has bipartisan support across the House and Senate, it's unclear if it would pass.

US Copyright Office provides a path to allow for more device repairs

The right to repair movement just got a big boost from the US Copyright Office. Responding to proposals from a variety of organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and iFixit, the office on Wednesday recommended new exemptions to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as it relates to the repair of consumer electronics. The statute prohibits the circumvention of software copy protection and has been the target of right to repair advocates for years.

As reported by The Verge, the Copyright Office recommends additional protections for many consumer-facing devices that rely on software to function. As one example, it adopts a recommendation from Public Knowledge and iFixit that involves video game consoles. It says “the repair of software-enabled consumer devices is likely to be fair use, the Register finds that certain video game console repair is also likely fair use.”

It notes consumers can access the firmware on their systems as long as it’s with the intention of fixing the device’s optical drive and they restore any protective measures afterward. The rulemaking stops short of protecting non-consumer devices. However, the Library of Congress has signed off on the recommendations, paving the way for them to go into effect on October 28th. In a statement to Engadget, the EFF applauded the decision but said Congress needs to modify Section 1201. 

The new rules enacted by the Librarian of Congress represent a victory for security research, accessibility, education, preservation, and repair. While the exemptions do continue to contain unnecessary and harmful limitations, we're pleased with the additional freedom to operate that the Librarian granted in this rulemaking. The largest disappointment, however, is that the agency failed to protect the public's ability to make non-infringing modifications of device software as we requested. This kind of user innovation has been a profoundly important driver of advances in technology and lets communities who are not served by a technology's default functions to customize them to their own needs. We are also mindful that the rulemaking process is inherently limited: while the Librarian can authorize people to engage in circumvention, they cannot create exemptions to the part of the law (Section 1201(a)(2)) that prohibits the dissemination of the technology needed to achieve circumvention. Congress needs to remove that restriction in order to give these legal rights to circumvent their full practical effect.

iFixit had a similar take on the decision. 

We're glad the Register of Copyrights finally agreed that copyright law shouldn't keep you from fixing your stuff — regardless of what 'type' of device it is. A legal solution for repairing optical drives on Xboxes and PlayStations is long overdue, and will help put desperately needed bricked consoles back in service. Unfortunately, the new rules still maintain some absurd limitations — like excluding commercial devices and noninfringing modification of software-enabled devices (like changing the settings on a software-enabled cat litter box). Particularly troubling is the Register's reliance on potential service contracts with manufacturers in order to deny the exemption for repair of commercial or industrial equipment. If repair is non-infringing (which it is) then manufacturers' monopoly-preserving service contracts shouldn't prevent the Office from granting anbear on the issuance of the exemption. Moreover, the Copyright Office's process has some fatal flaws: exemption proponents have to return every three years to argue that their exemptions be renewed (a process that is both time and resource intensive), and it doesn't address whether people can make or distribute repair tools that circumvent manufacturer's digital locks. Without access to those tools, the exemptions are largely academic. This is why Congress needs to step in an permanently exempt repair, and repair tools, from Section 1201. Copyright Law should never stand in the way of repair. Until Congress finally fixes Section 1201 and grants a permanent right to repair, we’re going to be stuck on this ferris wheel with the Copyright Office every three years.

The decision will complement the efforts of the Biden administration on the same front. At the start of July, the president ordered the Federal Trade Commission to draft new rules to empower consumers and businesses to repair their devices on their own and at independent shops. The executive order marked the first time a US president had ever weighed in on the right to repair movement. Later that same month, the FTC complied with the directive, voting unanimously to tackle unlawful repair restrictions. At the time, it said it would work with law enforcement and policymakers to update existing regulations to protect small businesses and companies that would prevent them from fixing their own products.

Update 2:03PM ET: Added comment from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. We've also changed the headline to better reflect the nature of the Copyright Office's rulemaking.

Update 2:51PM ET: Added comment from iFixit.

US Copyright Office provides a path to allow for more device repairs

The right to repair movement just got a big boost from the US Copyright Office. Responding to proposals from a variety of organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and iFixit, the office on Wednesday recommended new exemptions to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as it relates to the repair of consumer electronics. The statute prohibits the circumvention of software copy protection and has been the target of right to repair advocates for years.

As reported by The Verge, the Copyright Office recommends additional protections for many consumer-facing devices that rely on software to function. As one example, it adopts a recommendation from Public Knowledge and iFixit that involves video game consoles. It says “the repair of software-enabled consumer devices is likely to be fair use, the Register finds that certain video game console repair is also likely fair use.”

It notes consumers can access the firmware on their systems as long as it’s with the intention of fixing the device’s optical drive and they restore any protective measures afterward. The rulemaking stops short of protecting non-consumer devices. However, the Library of Congress has signed off on the recommendations, paving the way for them to go into effect on October 28th. In a statement to Engadget, the EFF applauded the decision but said Congress needs to modify Section 1201. 

The new rules enacted by the Librarian of Congress represent a victory for security research, accessibility, education, preservation, and repair. While the exemptions do continue to contain unnecessary and harmful limitations, we're pleased with the additional freedom to operate that the Librarian granted in this rulemaking. The largest disappointment, however, is that the agency failed to protect the public's ability to make non-infringing modifications of device software as we requested. This kind of user innovation has been a profoundly important driver of advances in technology and lets communities who are not served by a technology's default functions to customize them to their own needs. We are also mindful that the rulemaking process is inherently limited: while the Librarian can authorize people to engage in circumvention, they cannot create exemptions to the part of the law (Section 1201(a)(2)) that prohibits the dissemination of the technology needed to achieve circumvention. Congress needs to remove that restriction in order to give these legal rights to circumvent their full practical effect.

iFixit had a similar take on the decision. 

We're glad the Register of Copyrights finally agreed that copyright law shouldn't keep you from fixing your stuff — regardless of what 'type' of device it is. A legal solution for repairing optical drives on Xboxes and PlayStations is long overdue, and will help put desperately needed bricked consoles back in service. Unfortunately, the new rules still maintain some absurd limitations — like excluding commercial devices and noninfringing modification of software-enabled devices (like changing the settings on a software-enabled cat litter box). Particularly troubling is the Register's reliance on potential service contracts with manufacturers in order to deny the exemption for repair of commercial or industrial equipment. If repair is non-infringing (which it is) then manufacturers' monopoly-preserving service contracts shouldn't prevent the Office from granting anbear on the issuance of the exemption. Moreover, the Copyright Office's process has some fatal flaws: exemption proponents have to return every three years to argue that their exemptions be renewed (a process that is both time and resource intensive), and it doesn't address whether people can make or distribute repair tools that circumvent manufacturer's digital locks. Without access to those tools, the exemptions are largely academic. This is why Congress needs to step in an permanently exempt repair, and repair tools, from Section 1201. Copyright Law should never stand in the way of repair. Until Congress finally fixes Section 1201 and grants a permanent right to repair, we’re going to be stuck on this ferris wheel with the Copyright Office every three years.

The decision will complement the efforts of the Biden administration on the same front. At the start of July, the president ordered the Federal Trade Commission to draft new rules to empower consumers and businesses to repair their devices on their own and at independent shops. The executive order marked the first time a US president had ever weighed in on the right to repair movement. Later that same month, the FTC complied with the directive, voting unanimously to tackle unlawful repair restrictions. At the time, it said it would work with law enforcement and policymakers to update existing regulations to protect small businesses and companies that would prevent them from fixing their own products.

Update 2:03PM ET: Added comment from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. We've also changed the headline to better reflect the nature of the Copyright Office's rulemaking.

Update 2:51PM ET: Added comment from iFixit.