Hillicon Valley: Harris spikes in Google searches after debate clash with Biden | Second US city blocks facial recognition | Apple said to be moving Mac Pro production from US to China | Bipartisan Senate bill takes aim at ‘deepfake’ videos

Hillicon Valley: Harris spikes in Google searches after debate clash with Biden | Second US city blocks facial recognition | Apple said to be moving Mac Pro production from US to China | Bipartisan Senate bill takes aim at 'deepfake' videos
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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).


TRACKING THE GOOGLE PRIMARY: Sen. (D-Calif.) spiked in Google searches in the second half of the debate shortly after her contentious back-and-forth with former Vice President over his record on civil rights.

Searches for Harris’s name surged by 500 percent after the one-hour mark, according to Google Trends. Searches for former Colorado Gov. (D) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor (D) both increased by 300 percent during the second half.


Harris and author saw the largest spikes in Google searches for their names over the second hour, at various points seeing their names surge in popularity over other top-searched candidates.

Biden and Harris’s sharp exchange was one of the most memorable moments of the night. Harris went after Biden’s record on civil rights.

Harris brought up the former vice president’s past comments touting his work with two segregationist senators, calling it “hurtful.”

“On this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats, we have to take it seriously, we have to act swiftly,” Harris said. She then pressed Biden over his former opposition to busing, saying that she personally benefited from busing as a black woman.

Read more here.


FACEBLINDNESS IS SPREADING: Somerville, Mass., on Thursday became the second U.S. city to ban its local government from using facial recognition technology.

The move marks a win for privacy and civil rights advocates in a battle over the controversial technology that is just starting to heat up.

Somerville follows San Francisco in banning local agencies and departments, including law enforcement, from using facial recognition software in public spaces.

All 11 members of the Somerville City Council approved the ordinance on Thursday night, and the city’s mayor signed it on Friday afternoon, making it official.

The ordinance bars the city of Somerville or any official from obtaining or accessing any face surveillance system or any information obtained from a face surveillance system.

Law enforcement will not be allowed to use data gathered by facial recognition technology as evidence in any proceeding, and city residents will be allowed to take action if officials violate the order.

“I have serious concerns about the use of facial recognition technology, and I commend the City Council for taking this important action to ban the acquisition or use of such technologies in our community,” Mayor Joseph Curtatone said in a statement to The Hill.

Curtatone raised concerns that the “unregulated” technology has been shown to result in “false identification,” meaning the software misidentifies people’s faces. And he noted Somerville is a “diverse community,” which raises concerns about the “frequency of the technology’s bias against minorities.”

Read more here.


APPLE TAKES ITS JOBS ELSEWHERE: Apple has moved production of the Mac Pro, one of the few devices it manufactured in the U.S., to China amid the ongoing trade war between the world’s two biggest economies, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal, citing people familiar with the plan, reported on Friday that Apple would be using the Quanta Computer Inc. as a contractor to carry out the manufacturing at a plant near Shanghai.

The $6,000 desktop computer had been manufactured in an Austin, Texas, plant since 2013, but has seen demand fade for the device in the years since.

A spokesman for Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill, but the company told the Journal that the new Mac Pro model is designed in the U.S. and some of its parts are manufactured here as well.

“Final assembly is only one part of the manufacturing process,” the spokesman said.

Apple has been under increasing pressure from the Trump administration to expand its U.S. manufacturing and create more domestic jobs.

In 2017, Trump told the Journal that Apple CEO Tim Cook had promised to build three major factories, which the company did not confirm. Apple has not announced any new U.S. manufacturing centers in the years since.

Read more here.


HOUSE FRESHMAN TAKE UP ELECTION SECURITY: A bipartisan group of freshman House lawmakers revealed Friday a Task Force Sentry that has worked behind closed doors the past two months to craft legislation to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections.

The task force, which includes six freshman Democrats and one freshman Republican, identified five key areas of vulnerabilities in the U.S. political system they hope to address with legislation.

This includes deterring foreign aggression, mandating disclosure of receiving foreign funds, preventing foreign money from funding campaigns, defining the roles and responsibilities of social media companies as such entities seek to use their platforms, and establishing monitoring mechanisms to detect and prevent disinformation campaigns.

The task force members, who hail from a diverse range of backgrounds, quietly met with issue experts to help guide their legislation as they work to safeguard the 2020 elections.

“We believe that protecting our country from foreign adversaries should never be partisan,” Task Force Sentry members said in a joint statement.

Read more here.


NONE OF THE SKYWALKERS WERE AVAILABLE: The Senate on Thursday evening confirmed the Air Force general tapped to lead the newly formed U.S. Space Command.

The Senate approved Gen. John Raymond to be the commander of Space Command by unanimous consent in a package of a couple dozen military nominations.

Raymond serves as the commander of Air Force Space Command. When the Pentagon announced his nomination in March, the department said he would be dual-hatted, meaning he will now serve as both commander of U.S. Space Command and commander of Air Force Space Command.

The administration is establishing U.S. Space Command as part of its broader efforts to increase the military’s focus on space. The effort includes a push to establish Space Force as the sixth branch of the military.

Both the Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill that passed Thursday and the House’s version that will be taken up in July include the creation of a new military branch for space, though there are differences between them that will need to be reconciled.

Under the Senate’s version of the military branch, the commander of Space Command would also serve as the commander of Space Force for one year, after which the two positions would be separated.

Read more here.


WOOF: The government’s privacy watchdog this week announced it has launched an investigation into the use of facial recognition technology at U.S. airports.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent agency tasked with advising the executive branch on privacy issues, announced the probe on Wednesday.

“The aviation-security project will examine how facial recognition and other biometric technologies are used to verify identity at each phase of a journey, from booking to baggage claim,” the PCLOB announced in a statement. “The project will consider both operational benefits and privacy and civil liberties concerns arising from the use of biometric technologies in the aviation-security context.”

Civil liberties groups, most prominently the Electronic Privacy Information Center, have been pushing for PCLOB to review and recommend some guardrails on the expanding face scanning program being implemented by the government in dozens of airports across the country.

The watchdog’s announcement came two days before the Senate on Friday confirmed the nominations of two members – Aditya Bamzai and Travis LeBlanc – to the bipartisan, five-member board.

Read more here.


LAWMAKERS TAKE AIM AT DEEPFAKES: A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Friday to assess and cut down on the threat posed by “deepfake” videos, which are created through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to manipulate original videos.

The Deepfake Report Act is sponsored by Senate AI Caucus co-founders (R-Ore.) and (D-N.M.), along with Sens. (R-Iowa), (D-Hawaii), (R-Colo.), (D-Mich.), and (R-S.D.).

This legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct an annual study of deepfakes and related content. It would also require DHS to assess the AI technologies used to create deepfakes and propose changes, additions to, or new regulations around these technologies.

A companion House version was also introduced Friday by Reps. (D-Wash.), (R-N.Y.), (D-Texas), and (R-Texas). Hurd is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which held a hearing earlier this month to examine the national security concerns involved with deepfakes. At the time, committee Chairman Adam Schiff(D-Calif.) described the videos as “a nightmarish scenario” to legislate. 

The issue has been in the spotlight recently after a video edited to make House Speaker (D-Calif.) appear drunk was posted online. While the video would not qualify as a deepfake, since it was slowed down to change the quality of the audio but not manipulated using AI, it showed the dangers posed to politicians’ images by manipulated videos. 

The controversy was stoked by Facebook’s decision to only flag the video as fake, but not take it down. YouTube took the video down altogether. 

Portman said in a statement on Friday that addressing the evolving threats posed by deepfakes will “require policymakers to grapple with important questions related to civil liberties and privacy.”

Read more here. 


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Made-up and fake news part of the public sphere.


A LIGHTER CLICK: David Lynch approved.



How digital advertising markets really work. (American Prospect)

Trustbusters are bypassing the biggest tech company of them all. (The Washington Post)

Joe Biden’s Silicon Valley challenge: getting young donors to like him. (Recode)

Trump officials weigh encryption crackdown. (Politico)

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