With transition comes change
It’s common for presidential transitions to herald changes in perspectives and thus policies, especially when the president-elect hails from a different political party than his predecessor. U.S. History is replete with examples of shifts and changes in programs and policies, but certain principles have stood time’s tests for the republic.
There used to be clear actions of America’s power, ensuring the marginalized within our borders were protected, and that every person was the beneficiary of the powers of a nation that protected families by making certain that caveat emptor was no longer the de facto or the de jure law of the land. When Teddy Roosevelt came to office, for example, filled with a zeal for reform, he was swift to act, ensuring people could eat untainted meat, work in a safer environment for fewer hours, and that the corporations could no longer be controlled by monopolies of power.
America has previously passed needed laws and regulations to ensure that the rights of the many were not impeded by the powers of the few. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as if net neutrality will belong to that legacy of protection.
What is net neutrality and why should I care?
Here’s the question: Do you think that your internet service provider (ISP) should allow you to access legal content and applications on an equal basis, favoring none and allowing all sources without having to pay premiums to do so?
If you do, you support the concept of net neutrality — and you’re not alone. Content providers, including Netflix, Google, and Apple, along with millions of others who filed public comments with the Federal Communications Commission last year, support the concept of net neutrality.
Current rules prohibit ISP’s from charging content providers more for faster access to their customers or deliberately slowing the content of competitors.
Net neutrality keeps accessing content on the internet free from bias of who is providing it. Supporters focus on the fact that consumers pay for access to the things that they want to see. Consumers want to access all content at the speeds that they were promised when they bought their plan. The FCC’s adoption of the Open Internet Rule in 2015, protecting net neutrality, has — so far, anyway — made it past the legal challenges that have come its way.
So, who doesn’t agree with that? Typically, dozens of broadband companies, including giants such as Comcast, Cox, Verizon, and AT&T. Their position is that the net neutrality regulations are overly prescriptive and act as a deterrent to innovation and further investment.
And the new president and his FCC advisers agree with them.
Changes are afoot
Trump’s recent appointment of advisers Mark Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach to the FCC transition team serve as a likely herald regarding the future of net neutrality, as well as the FCC itself.
To be fair, we saw this coming. While not commenting on many things tech during the course of his campaign, Trump did speak directly on net neutrality. “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media,” he tweeted in 2014.
Interesting point, except that it reflects a lack of understanding as to what net neutrality is and how the policy works.
The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC policy that ended in 1987. At its core, it required FCC-licensed TV and radio stations to provide a portion of their programming to issues of controversy and public importance, ensuring opposing viewpoints were aired.
The Washington Post explained the Fairness Doctrine further, writing, “[t]his meant that programs on politics were required to include opposing opinions on the topic under discussion. Broadcasters had an active duty to determine the spectrum of views on a given issue and include those people best suited to representing those views in their programming.”
There’s no missing nuance of Trump’s tweet. His point was that net neutrality rules would somehow censor conservative media. Since the regulations don’t address the specifics of content, and, in fact call for all content to be treated equally, the message is somewhat clear: I don’t get it, but the ISP’s beat content providers.
So, who’s advising the President?
It’s clear that Trump has taken the position that net neutrality isn’t long for the keeping, and the role of the FCC is possibly subject to change as well.
Jamison and Eisenach have both been connected with the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI). AEI focuses on limiting government intervention in business, and providing businesses the ability to operate without what some would call government interference, and others would call government oversight.
While testifying in front of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee in 2014, Eisenach took the position that the broadband market, which is another way of identifying ISPs, is “[not] a cause for concern,” as the market was neither a monopoly nor “cozy duopoly”. It’s not as if history has been vacant of examples of competing businesses within the same field, in which a monopoly did not exist, engaging in collusion to ensure satisfactory business conditions for them all.
While conceding that ISPs have power in the market, and that power “can create the incentive for firms to deny access to their platforms”, he posited that there was no reason for the FCC to inject itself in regulatory affairs because these conditions weren’t unique to the broadband ISP field. Therefore, continuing his logic trail to its end, since the FCC doesn’t need to be involved in regulatory affairs over broadband ISPs, there must not be an existing problem.
Thus, “net neutrality regulation cannot be justified on grounds of enhancing consumer welfare or protecting the public interest”.
Jamison’s approach to the issue is similar. Writing for AEI, he took the stance that FCC’s regulations regarding net neutrality were necessary only if a monopoly of broadband providers existed. Predictably, he doesn’t believe that there is. “If the U.S. is to continue to be a place where consumers, entrepreneurs, and other enterprises can develop the next generation of information technologies, the country must move beyond net neutrality controversies,” he wrote. “This means letting the industry make business decisions and regulating only when monopolies take over.”
Even in “instances where there are monopolies,” Jamison continued, “it would seem overkill to have an entire federal agency dedicated to ex ante regulation of their services.” Let’s let that sink in for just a moment before continuing, shall we?
His solution? Almost everything that the FCC does can be handled by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services.
But of course. We wouldn’t want an entire federal commission only dedicated to the regulation of public communications in the 21st century. I’m certain those other agencies aren’t too busy with what’s currently in front of them. Surely they can shoehorn in these other responsibilities, as well as get up to speed on the issues facing the FCC in an expedient and efficient fashion.
Jeff Sessions, a United States Senator from Alabama and the presumptive nominee for U.S. Attorney General, is also on record as opposing net neutrality regulations, thus likely securing the perspective for the Trump administration on the near future of Internet regulation. Given the public statements of the two men assisting Trump in the FCC transition team, it is also likely that the FCC may be phased out or leashed to the point in which there are no real regulations on how the companies that control the means of our nation’s communications do so.
We’re not neutral about net neutrality
We at The American Genius believe that reasonable people can certainly disagree on how the country is best run. What we don’t stand for is turning a blind eye to dangers in front of us. Jefferson had it right: some truths are simply self-evident. And those truths are worth defending, loudly and vigorously.
A monopoly of public utilities has rarely proven to be a winning strategy for innovation in the long run, and an unregulated monopoly grows staler still.
Without anyone in a dedicated federal agency to look out after our best interests when it comes to the volume and exchange of ideas and content on the Internet, it will fall to each of us to ensure that our ISP of choice understands what we choose to do with our dollars should they decide to throttle content. It behooves us to ensure that our US Representatives and Senators understand what we will choose to do with our support as well.
Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)
(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.
It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.
Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.
One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.
In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.
Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.
It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.
Looking to refresh your virtual rooms? Check out Zoom’s Immersive View
(TECH NEWS) Zoom’s new Immersive View feature will help you feel like you’re back in the workplace or classroom again – or wherever you want to be.
If you’re tired of feeling separated from your coworkers, friends, or classmates, Zoom has a new feature that will make you feel like you’re all in the same place once again. At Zoomtopia, Zoom’s annual user conference, the company announced its Immersive View feature that they say will allow for a “more engaging and collaborative way to meet”.
With Immersive View, video participants can all be arranged in a single virtual space. Hosts can choose from one of Zoom’s immersive virtual scenes and embed video participants within that scene.
To make sure your scene is as natural as possible, hosts can move around and resize a participant’s image so they can look like they are sitting on a chair in a classroom or conference room. For added fun, you can even set a custom background. So, if you’d rather be part of the Galactic Senate Chamber, you can create your own scene.
Up to 25 video participants can be in the same virtual space. Any additional people after that will show up as a thumbnail strip on the top of the screen. And, at any time, you can change the view back to Speaker View or Gallery View if you want to.
How to get started with Zoom’s Immersive View
Immersive View is available on Windows and macOS for desktop. By default, all Free and single Pro accounts using Zoom 5.6.3 or higher will have the feature enabled.
To use the feature, first start your Zoom meeting or webinar on your desktop. In the top-right corner, click “View” and select “Immersive View”.
To place participants into the scene, choose between automatically and manually. By choosing automatic, as many participants as the layout will allow will be added to the scene. If you choose manual, you can add and remove participants as you’d like. Since Immersive View will use the first 25 participants, manual works well for larger meetings. If participant No. 26 needs to speak up, you can remove someone and add No. 26 in.
After you’ve made your choice, select one of the provided virtual backgrounds or upload your own image. If you choose to use your own custom background, make sure to follow Zoom’s virtual background specs for the best results.
Finally, click “Start” to launch your scene, and, now, you’re all set!
Those that aren’t using Zoom 5.6.3 or higher will not be able to see the Immersive View. Instead, they will see either the Gallery View or Speaker View with a black background.
Currently, Immersive View isn’t available in breakout rooms yet. Also, recordings of Immersive Views aren’t supported. Depending on your recording settings, recordings will appear in Gallery View or Speaker View.
Considering all the video call fatigue going on right about now, the timing of Zoom’s Immersive View feature couldn’t come at a better time. It will be refreshing to see a video call without just heads inside boxes.
Create a pandemic-friendly sign-in with this touchless technology
(TECH NEWS) In an era where touchless communication is paramount, Wellcome brings touchless employee and visitor sign-in technology to the workplace.
Touchless technology is becoming more and more common these days and for good reasons — health and safety. Due to the COVID pandemic, social distancing is crucial in helping decrease the amount of positive coronavirus cases.
Unfortunately, some work environments require in-person employees, contractors, and visitors. And now, some businesses are even starting to bring more of their workforce back into the office. While we can hopefully assume they all have some safety protocols in place, the front desk interactions haven’t changed much. This makes it difficult to manage and see who’s in and out.
But to fill in that gap, meet Wellcome. Wellcome is a touchless sign-in platform for employees and visitors. According to their website, the app “helps you manage the workplace effectively, making it safe and easy for everyone” who’s in the office.
And the platform does this by implementing the following features in its tool.
Employee Touchless Check-in
By uploading a list of employees to the Admin, employees automatically receive an email with a one-click “Wellcome Pass”. This pass can be added to their Apple or Android digital wallet.
Once at work, employees scan their pass on an iPad at the reception desk. Then, they will see a customizable confirmation screen with the company’s health and safety guidelines messaging. This reminder can help ensure everyone is following the rules and staying safe.
Visitor Touchless Check-in
For visitors without a Wellcome Pass, they can still scan the QR code on the iPad using their device. The QR code will direct them to a customized check-in form where they can select their host and fill out a health questionnaire on their mobile device.
COVID-Safe Visitor Screening
Based on how a visitor answers the health screening questionnaire, it will grant or deny them access to the office. This health COVID screening will help HR managers “protect the office by restricting access to visitors that might be infected.”
Via email, Slack, and/or SMS, Wellcome will immediately notify the host when they have a visitor and send them the visitor’s contact details. It will also let them know if their visitor was granted or denied access based on the health screening. If a visitor is denied access, the host is instructed to not meet the visitor, but contact them another way.
If there is a potential or confirmed COVID-19 case at work, Wellcome makes it easy to identify and notify anyone who may be at risk. To do this, the HR manager just needs to search by a person’s name and date range in the Admin. Search results will pull up anyone that could have come in contact with the infected person.
The Admin will also notify all employees and visitors that need to self-isolate and get tested. If needed, Wellcome also lets you download and submit a tracing report.
Manage Office Capacity
Wellcome tracks workplace capacity and occupancy data to help maintain social distancing. If occupancy reaches the capacity limit, the Admin will be notified to “take steps to reduce occupancy in order to stay within the required limits.”
In the Admin Dashboard, reports are available to view the status of current capacity. It can also predict what the occupancy will be each day so companies can plan ahead.
Employees have the option to pre-book when they want to come into the office. The app displays how many slots are available for each day, and it can send out a calendar reminder. Through the Admin, HR managers can see who will be coming into the office. This is Wellcome’s other way of making sure capacity limits are always within range.
Also, setting up Wellcome is pretty simple. All you need is an iPad. You install the app on it and leave it at the reception desk for employees and visitors to check-in.
For companies who have employees and visitors in and out of the office. Wellcome does sound appealing, and it looks like they will benefit a great deal from the platform. And, if you’d like to check it out, Wellcome lets you use the app free for 14 days. Afterwards, you can select a plan that works best for you.
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