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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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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If left unchallenged, Title II protection for net neutrality will be repealed.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

This Zoom alternative offers a branded video meeting experience

(TECH NEWS) AirConnect is a conferencing portal that allows for company customization and automated onboarding so you can focus on other priorities.

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The concepts of company culture and branding are now more important than they’ve ever been. When we were first hearing these terms, they felt like buzzwords and ways to attract new talent and business without any actual execution.

Now that we have an understanding of what they are and how to use them, they are so much more practical and necessary – from big businesses to a one-person Etsy shop.

It’s been a little different in the last few months trying to figure out how to make company culture exude in the virtual world. For places that are hiring, it is also tricky to show how they differ from the rest over a video conference call.

The creators of AirConnect have taken this into account and have unleashed the virtual conference concept with an element of customization. As they say, “nothing beats a personal touch”.

Through use of this video conferencing tool, you can meet virtually with customers and clients in a brand video meeting portal. Customization options include headers, logo placement, and colors.

Additionally, the tool allows for customers to access their data via a customer portal, which allows for some automation when onboarding clients, assisting customers, or meeting with partners. AirConnect urges users to “say goodbye to Zoom links”.

“Let’s face it, nobody likes the where’s-the-link, what’s-the-password, can-you-hear-me-yet: and that includes your customers. Say hello to a single place where they can meet with you, as well as seeing all their account information, resources and anything else you like. Ah, that’s better, isn’t it?” explains the website.

The fully featured customer portal allows users to go beyond the simple zone of a place to talk. The ability to connect to sheets is where customers can access the aforementioned data.

The video call feature in the branded portal offers as many video touchpoints as the user would like; whether it’s used for on-boarding or standard consultations. The fact that customers can access their own data anytime allows users to put their time towards the high-value touchpoints.

On-boarding processes can also be automated by capturing customers’ information and documents in a single portal, making activation simple.

This certainly differentiates from Zoom or Skype as it has the customization option. What do you think – is it useful or flashy for the sake of flash?

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Tech News

Google Messages adds features to catch up to iMessage

(TECH NEWS) Google Messages just added a bunch of features (including a web version) to make the chat service feel a lot more like iMessage. Better late than never!

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From the way people talk about iMessage, you’d think Apple has the market cornered on instant messaging–and, if you have an Android, you’re pretty much out of luck. With some new additions to Google Chat in the last week, this may no longer be the case.

According to CNET, Google added a slew of features to the RCS Messaging–typically referred to as Google Chat–app, all of which should now be available directly within your Android’s Messages app (technological limitations for older devices notwithstanding). Among these features are reactions to messages and the ability to text from your computer.

CNET notes that you’ll have to use the Google Messages app–not your phone’s built-in chat app if it’s different–in order to access these features, though they also point out that Samsung is in the process of adding the RCS Messaging suite to their proprietary messaging app as well.

You do have to jump through a couple of hoops to ensure that you’re able to use these features in Google Messages, starting with making sure you’ve updated your phone to the latest operating system version. That’s just good life advice anyway, so double-check your phone’s settings for updates before you proceed.

Obviously, you’ll also need Google Messages installed on your phone as well. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store, and it should be compatible with most devices.

Once your phone is updated and Google Messages is installed, you can set Messages as your default texting app from within settings. This process will differ slightly depending on the Android model you have, but the easiest way to do this is by opening Google Messages after installing it, and then following the on-screen prompts to set it as your default texting app.

If you’ve ignored these prompts in the past and you don’t want to redownload the app, you can search your Android’s settings for “chat” or “text” to narrow down the possibilities for where the default texting app setting is hiding.

There is one last step you’ll need to accomplish before you can actually use Google Messages’ chat features, and that’s enabling the features themselves. Google Messages will usually prompt you to upgrade to these features once you start a conversation (this typically takes the form of a message asking if you want to see when your friends are typing), but you can also navigate to Google Message settings, elect to “turn Chat on”, and follow the ensuing prompts.

From here, you’re free to use Messages, much like you would iMessage; you can react to messages by long-pressing them, check and respond to messages from Google Messages on your computer, organize and view message history, and so on. If you’re someone who feels like you missed out on the iMessage craze–or you’ve recently switched from an iPhone to an Android–Google Messages should feel right at home on your phone.

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Tech News

“Mine” helps you find your digital footprint and DELETE it

(TECH NEWS) Most people value their online security, but don’t know to manage their data without abandoning the apps and websites that they love. Mine is trying to change that.

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I’m pretty concerned with keeping my personal data safe these days: I recently got a VPN and I try to use a privacy browser for everything I do on the internet. But it’s impossible to completely avoid sharing my personal information, especially if I want to watch, buy, say, or do anything at all online.

So when I first heard about Mine, a new machine-learning tool which claims to be “the future of data ownership”, it really piqued my interest. 

Using your email history, Mine identifies companies that are most likely to be storing your information based on the headers of the messages in your inbox. Its AI then independently locates the privacy policies for these companies to determine what kinds of information they’re storing, rather than looking through the actual contents of your emails.

Mine seems very mindful of the fact that they must be trustworthy in order to be successful. It’s free right now while they’re still new; Mine only got started in January. But they have plans to introduce a subscription service in the future.

To quote their FAQ: “Tech companies that are not interested in your money are interested in your data, your online behavior, or other personal assets they can monetize. In other words, if an app is free, they’re probably getting their money from somewhere else 🙂 Our goal is the opposite – we want to make data ownership accessible for all without monetizing our users’ data.”

Of course, when I saw the smiley face, I figured I’d give it a shot. Hey, if they help me get my information out of the hands of a less smiley entity, everything evens out, right?

After sifting through my emails, Mine spat out a list of the places that were allegedly storing my information. I was pretty shocked to see around 100 different companies pop up. Some of them were there for obvious reasons. Google, for example, was self-explanatory… but there were also names that I could swear I’ve never heard of.

I ended up submitting over 50 data deletion requests. The tool made it really easy to see who had my information, and streamlined the process of sending requests to these companies. With two taps, it was bombs away.

My inbox was suddenly buried in automated messages, mostly about how “support” would get back to me “as soon as possible.” I spent the next few days virtually waist deep in what was, for all intents and purposes, spam mail.

The select few that promptly, and properly, addressed my request produced mixed results: only three companies immediately confirmed that they had erased the data they were storing about me. The rest were going to make me do a bit more legwork, with each having their own rabbit holes for me to jump through before they would delete a dang thing. I won’t lie, this frustrated me, but the reasons for these extra steps are not necessarily sinister.

When I spoke to Gal Ringel, co-founder and CEO of Mine, he shared that often, companies do this because they need to be provided with more information than an email address in order to fully complete the request. He says that Mine will soon be incorporating “enriched” data erasure requests that should cut back on the need to inconvenience users with these outside processes.

In the meantime, he and his team have been working with businesses to develop policies that facilitate the process of data erasure. The majority of businesses, he says, consider it a good investment in building trust with the public. It’s also a prudent move to prevent identity theft, should others gain access to their records.

So, what’s my verdict on Mine? It really simplified the process of asking companies to delete my personal information. It is an important step on a long journey towards redefining the relationships that we have with our data, since the majority of people simply don’t have an accessible way to exercise control over it.

Mine is still in development, and I really look forward to seeing what it becomes in the future. (Hopefully, something that involves fewer emails!)

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