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Net neutrality got kicked in the nuts, here’s what’s next

(TECH NEWS) FCC’s latest vote puts net neutrality on death row, leading to an uncertain future for the internet.

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net neutrality

Welp, that thing we were hoping wouldn’t happen happened. Remember when the internet was considered a resource equally available? On December 14, the FCC voted on the Restoring Internet Freedom Order to repeal net neutrality regulations.

Some Republican Congress members’ last-minute requests for delay were ignored, and the vote went on as scheduled since those opposed were outnumbered by other Republican supporters.

As expected, the vote was split 3-2. Republican members Aji Pai, Michael O’Reilley, and Brendan Carr voted for repeal, while Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voted to protect net neutrality.

If left unchallenged, Title II protection for net neutrality will be repealed. Title II is part of the Communications Act, put in place in 1934. In 2015, the FCC passed the Open Internet Rule, which reclassified Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as telecommunications companies.

Basically, the internet is classified as a utility, and is subject to the same regulations as other utilities like gas and water. Internet-specific regulations include prohibiting ISPs from blocking or impairing access to legal content and from playing favorites with internet traffic.

However, if this is overturned, ISPs will no longer fall under regulatory procedures of the Communications Act.

Supporters insist that removing regulations will help increase investments in the broadband industry.

Instead of seeing the internet as a public resource, it’s viewed as a product in the free market system. Except oops, since ISP competition was driven down years ago by consolidating broadband infrastructure, there is no free and open market for the internet.

Major corporations own most of the ISPs, and local competition was effectively shut out with the consolidations. Around 50 million households only have one choice of a high-speed ISP in their area.

Now those companies can really have fun playing monopoly.

Without regulation, ISPs can control how quickly you get webpages, download speed, data limits, and even access to sites.

Theoretically, they can block you from accessing competitor information, and essentially censor news by blocking certain topics and content.

They can even redirect you to sites when you’re trying to do something else, like that awful Yahoo malware that redirects whenever you’re trying to Google something.

Deregulation will likely lead to internet “fast lanes,” where companies must pay higher amounts to give their users faster access to websites and services.

While supporters of the repeal can pretend this won’t lead to an internet hierarchy that will disproportionately put minorities, women, and rural communities at a disadvantage, we’ve already seen it happen. In the days before net neutrality, ISPs implemented a cornucopia of fees, data-capping, censorship, and blocking that pretty much ruined everything for everyone.

Problems with unregulated ISPs is why a majority of Americans and Congress support keeping net neutrality in place.

So how did this vote make it on the floor in spite of overwhelming protest?

Evil stepsisters Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T have been lobbying the FCC for the last nine years, collectively spending half a billion dollars to end regulatory oversight. Hey, remember that one time we were worried about FCC Chariman Ajit Pai being a patsy for Verizon so they could push their own interests on the country?

Over 70 percent of Americans lack high-speed internet access, or can only get it from one provider. Deregulation won’t lead to a flourishing, competitive marketplace. It just means companies like Verizon can charge users more for access to certain sites, throttle internet speed, and restrict access to streaming sites.

Net neutrality is so contentious that during the vote, the room was evacuated for about ten minutes due to security threats. But the fight isn’t over. There’s a small chance the U.S. Court of Appeals could overturn the repeal.

Plus, tech companies and activists will likely throw down lawsuits, and there’s already a multi-state appealing of the rule. Even Congress is getting in on fighting back.

However, depending on how the appeals go, the repeal may remain place, or only partially overturned.

It’s unclear how this will all play out or when it will take effect, but if net neutrality is killed for good, we’re taking another step closer to living in a technology dystopia.

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

Tech News

Facebook deletes developer over ironic browser extension invention

(TECHNOLOGY) Think a muted week for a nipple shadow is bad? Facebook just permabanned this inventor for…helping others to use the platform less.

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African American hand holding iphone on Facebook's login page.

It must be true that corporations are people because Facebook is pulling some seriously petulant moves.

In a stunt that goes beyond 24hr bans for harmless hyperbole, and chopping away at organic reach (still bitter from my stint in social media management), Facebook straight up permanently banned one of their users for the high crime of…aiming to get people to use the platform a little less.

Developer Louis Barclay came up with Unfollow Everything, an extension that basically instantly deleted your feed without having you unfriend anyone or unlike anything. Rather than have users manually go through and opt out of seeing posts, they’d now opt IN to keeping who they wanted front and center.

In his own words on Slate: “I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.”

Since more time spent on Facebook means more ads that you’re exposed to, means more you spend, the add-on started slowly making headway. I myself pretend to be a ranch owner to keep ads as irrelevant to me as possible (though my new addiction to hoof trimming videos is all too real), and Unfollow Everything probably would have been a great find for me if it hadn’t been killed by a cease and desist.

Law firm Perkins Coie, representing the internet giant, let Barclay know in their notice that Unfollow Everything violated the site’s rules on automated collection of user content, and was muscling in on Facebook trademarked IP.

They also added, in what I can only assume was a grade-school narc voice, that the add-on was “encouraging others to break Facebook’s rules.”

Barclay, not having the resources to fight a company with the finances of a small country, promptly ceased and desisted. Practical.

Officially speaking, Facebook might have actually have some ground to stand on vis-à-vis its Terms Of Service. The letter and legal team may have been warranted, not that we’ll ever truly know, since who’s taking Facebook to court? But then they followed up with a ‘neener neener’ deletion of Barclay’s 15 year old account – which was still very much in use.

Look, Facebook is the only way I connect with some of my friends. I don’t take enough pictures to make full use of Instagram, I fully hate Twitter, my Tumblr is inundated with R-rated fanfiction, and any other social media platform I’m happy to admit I’m too haggish and calcified to learn to use. So a complete WIPE of everything there with no notice would be pretty devastating to me. I can only imagine how Barclay felt.

And in light of the fact that the browser extension wasn’t hurting anyone, taking money, or spewing hateful rhetoric, there’s really only one thing to say about Facebook’s actions…they’re petty.

Sure, they may have the legal right to do what they did. It’s just that when you notice every fifth post is an unvetted advertisement, their high ground starts to sink a little. I mean nothing says ‘We’re being totally responsible with user information’ like the number of add ons and user tactics popping up to avoid seeing the unnecessary. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Facebook put up a fight against losing ad traffic.

We all know all those stores with amazing deals aren’t actually going out of business, or even using their own photos right? Right?

Barclay added in his article, “Facebook’s behavior isn’t just anti-competitive; it’s anti-consumer. We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them—not just through the squashing of tools like Unfollow Everything, but through the highly manipulative designs and features platforms adopt in the first place. The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook.”

Agreed, Mr. Barclay.

Now I’m off to refresh my feed. Again.

 

Graffiti wall with image of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, with the saying "You've been Zucked."

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Tech News

Glowbom: Create a website, using just your voice

(TECH NEWS) Talk about futuristic! This app allows you to create quizzes, surveys, an online store, and even a website in minutes–without typing.

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Colleagues looking at Glowbom website homepage

In the past, we’ve discussed things like simplified coding and no-code app creation. Now, a San Francisco startup has taken the process a step further with no-type app creation.

Glowbom is a voice app that allows you to dictate steps to an AI – from adding information all the way to exporting code–in order to create a simple app, survey, or game. While the built-in options for now are limited to four simple categories, the power of the app itself is impressive: By asking the Glowbom AI to complete tasks, one is able to dictate an entire (if small) program.

It’s an impressive idea, and an even more impressive product. Glowbom founder and CEO Jacob Ilin showcases the power of Glowbom in a short demonstration video, and while he only uses it to create a simple survey, the entire process–up to and including the exportation of the API–is accomplished via voice commands.

Furthermore, Glowbom appears to process natural inputs–such as phrases like “Let’s get started”–in the context of an actual command rather than the colloquial disconnect one tends to expect in AI. This means that users won’t need to read a 700-page manual on phrases and buzzwords to use before jumping on board–something the Glowbom user base was probably hoping to avoid anyway.

As of now, the options one can use Glowbom to create include a quiz, a survey, an online store, and a website. It seems reasonable to expect that, as support for the app grows, those categories will expand to comprise a larger library.

Glowbom certainly opens a few doors for people looking to take their businesses or ideas from an offline medium into the digital marketplace. As coding becomes less centralized in computer language and more contingent on processes such as this, we can expect to see more products from folks who may have missed the coding boat.

Perhaps more importantly, Glowbom and products like it make coding more accessible to a wider base of disabled users, thus taking a notable step toward evening the playing field for a marginalized demographic. It’s not true equality, but it’s a start.

This story was first published here in October 2020.

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4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends

(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.

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Woman testing VR technology

Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.

Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.

The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”

The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.

“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.

The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.

Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.

The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)

Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.

The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.

Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”

Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)

And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.

The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.

Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.

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