Facebook changes misinfo rules to allow posts claiming Covid-19 is man-made

Facebook made a few noteworthy changes to its misinformation policies this week, including the news that the company will now allow claims that Covid was created by humans — a theory that contradicts the previously prevailing assumption that humans picked up the virus naturally from animals.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”

The company is adjusting its rules about pandemic misinformation in light of international investigations legitimating the theory that the virus could have escaped from a lab. While that theory clearly has enough credibility to be investigated at this point, it is often interwoven with demonstrably false misinformation about fake cures, 5G towers causing Covid and most recently the false claim that the AstraZeneca vaccine implants recipients with a bluetooth chip.

Earlier this week, President Biden ordered a multi-agency intelligence report evaluating if the virus could have accidentally leaked out of a lab in Wuhan, China. Biden called this possibility one of two “likely scenarios.”

“… Shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident,” Biden said in an official White House statement, adding that there isn’t sufficient evidence to make a final determination.

Claims that the virus was man-made or lab-made have circulated widely since the pandemic’s earliest days, even as the scientific community largely maintained that the virus probably made the jump from an infected animal to a human via natural means. But many questions remain about the origins of the virus and the U.S. has yet to rule out the possibility that the virus emerged from a Chinese lab — a scenario that would be a bombshell for international relations.

Prior to the Covid policy change, Facebook announced that it would finally implement harsher punishments against individuals who repeatedly peddle misinformation. The company will now throttle the News Feed reach of all posts from accounts that are found to habitually share known misinformation, restrictions it previously put in place for Pages, Groups, Instagram accounts and websites that repeatedly break the same rules.

#astrazeneca, #biden, #china, #covid-19, #facebook, #government, #misinformation, #president, #social, #tc, #united-states, #white-house

0

White House teams up with dating apps to give vaccinated users free perks

With vaccination rates slowing in the U.S., the White House is getting creative about getting shots in arms. Beyond protecting yourself and others from from a deadly disease, the latest incentive to get vaccinated could help you find love (or get laid).

The White House COVID-19 response team announced Friday that a number of popular dating apps would offer new perks for users who get vaccinated, with Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Match, OkCupid, BLK, Chispa, Plenty of Fish and Badoo all participating in the promotional push. The White House hopes to make inroads with the 50 million users across those dating apps where they’re already spending time.

On Tinder, anyone who adds a sticker to their profile promoting their vaccination status between June 2 and July 4 will be gifted a free Super Like. (Proof of vaccination isn’t necessary, but really, you should get vaccinated if it’s available where you live.) Tinder and other apps will also add vaccination site resources from Vaccine.gov to help people figure out where they can get the shot nearby.

“Nothing like fireworks to signal a new spark and a new start for those looking to meet new people IRL this summer,” Tinder CEO Jim Lanzone said.

According to OkCupid, getting vaccinated might help with that. The company found that people who displayed their vaccination status were 14 percent more likely to find a match. On OkCupid, vaccinated users will get a free boost, a perk that promotes their profile to potential matches. The other apps participating in the White House initiative are handing out their own premium perks to give users a competitive edge.

The effort is part of a push by the White House to get 70 percent of adults vaccinated by the Fourth of July. To reach more Americans, the Biden administration has also coordinated with popular entertainment companies like NASCAR and country music channel CMT to promote vaccination.

“Social distancing and dating were always a bit of a challenging combination,” White House Senior COVID Advisor Andy Slavitt said during a press event Friday. He characterized the vaccine push through dating apps as those companies “responding to the president’s call to action” rather than calling it an official partnership.

“We have finally found the one thing that makes use all more attractive,” Slavitt said. “A vaccination.”

#4th-of-july, #biden-administration, #ceo, #disease, #iac, #jim-lanzone, #okcupid, #president, #social, #social-software, #software, #tc, #tinder, #united-states, #vaccination, #vaccine, #white-house

0

Uber, Lyft to give free rides to COVID-19 vaccine sites in deal with White House

Uber and Lyft will provide free rides to any user traveling to get the COVID-19 vaccine through an agreement reached with the White House.

The free rides will last through July 4, the date when President Joe Biden wants 70% of U.S. adults to be vaccinated, according to the WSJ, which was the first to report on the partnership between the ride-hailing companies and the White House.

Lyft and Uber separately told TechCrunch the companies will cover the costs of the free rides. The White House will help advise on the product and how it is rolled out as well as share data on the more than 80,000 vaccination sites in the country, an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Uber didn’t provide a specific launch date for the program, only noting that it is expected to become available in the coming weeks. Lyft riders will be able to get a free ride code beginning May 24 via the app or website.

“Vaccines are our best hope to beat this pandemic and soon everyone in America will be able to take a free Uber to get their shot,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “We are honored to deepen our previous global commitments, and partner with the White House and Lyft to provide free rides to vaccination sites across the US. This is a proud moment for me, for Uber, and for our country. More and more Americans continue to get vaccinated every day — let’s keep moving forward, together.”

Uber hasn’t released further details about how its program will work. Lyft said its ride codes will cover $15 each way and noted that based on previous rides given to vaccination sites, the company expects that figure will cover most, if not all, fares. Ride codes can be used for Lyft ride-hailing, bike or scooter rides during standard pharmacy operating hours of 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

“The vaccine is the key to getting us all moving again, and we’re proud to do our part to move the country forward,” John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, said in a statement. “We’ve always believed transportation has the power to improve people’s lives, and this initiative makes that truer than ever. Helping more Americans get vaccinated helps the Lyft community of drivers and riders, and we’re grateful to the Biden Administration for prioritizing access.”

The announcement builds off of efforts by Lyft and Uber to provide free and discounted rides to underserved communities as well as roll out features to make it easier to access vaccine information and point-of-distribution sites. Uber first rolled out a COVID-relief program in March to offer free rides and deliveries. In December, the company said it would give an additional 10 million free or discounted rides.

Last month, Uber said it was launching more than a half-dozen new features, including one that will let users book vaccine appointments at Walgreens and reserve a ride to get their jab.

Lyft kicked off in December a universal vaccine access campaign, a coalition of partners that includes JPMorgan Chase, Anthem and United Way, to provide 60 million rides to and from vaccination sites for low-income, uninsured, and at-risk communities.

#automotive, #lyft, #president-joe-biden, #ride-hailing, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #white-house

0

Biden proposes ARPA-H, a health research agency to ‘end cancer’ modeled after DARPA

In a joint address to Congress last night, President Biden updated the nation on vaccination efforts and outlined his administration’s ambitious goals.

Biden’s first 100 days have been characterized by sweeping legislative packages that could lift millions of Americans out of poverty and slow the clock on the climate crisis, but during his first joint address to Congress, the president highlighted another smaller plan that’s no less ambitious: to “end cancer as we know it.”

“I can think of no more worthy investment,” Biden said Wednesday night. “I know of nothing that is more bipartisan…. It’s within our power to do it.”

The comments weren’t out of the blue. Earlier this month, the White House released a budget request for $6.5 billion to launch a new government agency for breakthrough health research. The proposed health agency would be called ARPA-H and would live within the NIH. The initial focus would be on cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s but the agency would also pursue other “transformational innovation” that could remake health research.

The $6.5 billion investment is a piece of the full $51 billion NIH budget. But some critics believe that ARPA-H should sit under the Department of Health and Human Services rather than being nested under NIH. 

ARPA-H would be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which develops moonshot-like tech for defense applications. DARPA’s goals often sound more like science fiction than science, but the agency contributed to or created a number of now ubiquitous technologies, including a predecessor to GPS and most famously ARPANET, the computer network that grew into the modern internet.

Unlike more conservative, incremental research teams, DARPA aggressively pursues major scientific advances in a way that shares more in common with Silicon Valley than it does with other governmental agencies. Biden believes that using the DARPA model on cutting edge health research would keep the U.S. from lagging behind in biotech.

“China and other countries are closing in fast,” Biden said during the address. “We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future: advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips, and clean energy.”

#arpanet, #biden, #biotechnology, #cancer, #congress, #darpa, #diabetes, #government, #health, #joe-biden, #life-sciences, #national-institute-of-health, #national-institutes-of-health, #president, #tc, #united-states, #white-house

0

I can’t believe it’s not meat! Mycelium meat replacement company aims for summer launch of first products

Meati, a company turning mycelium (the structural fibers of fungi) into healthier meat replacements for consumers, is prepping for a big summer rollout.

Co-founder Tyler Huggins expects to have the first samples of its whole-cut steak and chicken products in select restaurants around the country — along with their first commercial product, a jerky strip.

For Huggins, the product launch is another step on a long road toward broad commercial adoption of functional fungi foods as a better-for-you alternative to traditional meats.

“Use this as a conversation starter. About 2 ounces of this gives you 50% of your protein; 50% of your fiber; and half of your daily zinc. There really is nothing that can compare to this product in terms of nutritionals,” Huggins said. 

And moving from meat to mushrooms is a better option for the planet.

Meati expects to turn on its pilot plant this summer and is joining a movement among mushroom fans that includes milk replacements, from Perfect Day, more meat replacements from Atlast, and leather substitutes from Ecovative and MycoWorks.

“We’re definitely all in this together,” said Huggins of the other mob of mycelium-based tech companies bringing products to market.

However, not all mycelium is created equally, Huggins said. Meati has what Huggins said was a unique way of growing its funguses (not a real word) that “keep it in its most happy state.” That means peak nutritional content and peak growth efficiency, according to the company.

For Huggins, whose parents own a bison ranch and who grew up in cattle country, the goal is not to replace a t-bone or a ribeye, but the cuts of meat and chicken that find their ways into a burrito supreme or other quick serve meat cuts.

Rendering of Meati mushroom meats in a Banh Mi. Image Credit: Meati

“Head to head with that kind of cut, we win,” Huggins said. “I’d rather pick a fight there now and buy ourselves some time. I don’t think we’re going to go super high-end to start.”

That said, the company’s cap table of investors already includes some pretty heady culinary company. Acre Venture Partners (which counts Sam Kass — President Barack Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, Executive Director for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, and an Assistant Chef in the White House — among its partnership) is an investor. So is Chicago’s fine dining temple, Alinea.

But Huggins wants Meati to be an everyday type of meat replacement product. “I want to make sure that people think this is an every day protein,” Huggins said.

Meati thinks its future meat replacements will be cost competitive with conventional beef and chicken, but to whet consumers’ appetites, the company is starting with jerky.

“Meati’s delicious jerky,” said Huggins. “It provides this blank canvas. We’ll start with these beef jerky like flavors. But I want to come out of the gate and say that we’re mycelium jerky.”

The company currently has 30 people on staff led by Huggins and fo-founder Justin Whiteley. The two men initially started working on Meati as a battery replacement. Based on their research (Huggins with mycelium and Whiteley with advanced batteries) the two men received a grant for a mycelium-based electrode for lithium ion batteries.

“We were trying to tweak the chemical composition of the mycelium to make a better battery. What we found was that we were making something nutritious and edible,” said Huggins.

Also… the battery companies didn’t want it.

Now, backed by $28 million from Acre, Prelude Ventures, Congruent Ventures and Tao Capital, Meati is ready to go to market. The company also has access to debt capital to build out its vast network of mycelium growing facilities. It’s just raised a $18 million debt round from Trinity and Silicon Valley Bank.

“Two years ago … most companies in this space … there wasn’t this ability to take on debt to put steel in the ground,” said Huggins. “It’s an exciting time to be in food tech given that you can raise VC funding and there’s this ready available market for debt financing. You’ll start seeing faster and more rapid development because of it.”

Meati co-founders Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley. Image Credit: Meati

#acre-venture-partners, #barack-obama, #beef, #biology, #chicago, #congruent-ventures, #ecovative-design, #food-and-drink, #food-tech, #jerky, #meat, #michelle-obama, #mycelium, #mycoworks, #prelude-ventures, #president, #silicon-valley-bank, #steel, #tc, #white-house

0

Biden proposes gun control reforms to go after ‘ghost guns’ and close loopholes

President Biden has announced a new set of initiatives by which he hopes to curb the gun violence he described as “an epidemic” and “an international embarrassment.” Among other things, the ATF will be closing loopholes in unregulated online sales and so-called “ghost guns,” which can be built or printed with no serial numbers or background checks.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden Thursday afternoon, Biden recounted the many recent mass shootings as horrific tragedies, but pointed out that over a hundred people are shot every day in this country. “This is an epidemic, for God’s sake,” he repeated, “and it has to stop.”

Before outlining his plans for combating the problem, he made sure to address the inevitable Second Amendment objections from people who believe it is a Constitutional right for anyone to own things like assault rifles.

“Nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment,” Biden said. “From the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own. From the very beginning of the Second Amendment existing, certain people weren’t allowed to have weapons.”

Of course federal laws often conflict with state laws on this point, giving rise to surprising sights like heavily armed protestors taking over the Michigan capitol building — quite legally. But the feds do have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Background checks and registration tracking involve federal authorities, and there are loopholes that have appeared or worsened over recent years as online traffic in guns has increased (social networks are notorious for thinly veiled gun trade) and the process of building weapons at home has become easier.

“I have directed ATF to begin work on an updated study of gun trafficking, one that takes into account the fact that modern guns are not simply cast or forged any more, but can be made of plastic, printed on a 3D printer, or sold in self assembly kits,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who took the podium after Biden. “We will ensure that we understand and measure the problem of criminal gun trafficking in a data driven way.”

“Ghost guns” were a hot topic a few years back when several people and organizations, among them Defense Distributed, attempted to popularize 3D-printed pistols and assault rifle components. The high-tech angle made the media bite, though of course traditional gun trafficking in the form of smuggling and in-person sales dwarf the scale of anything these sites and services delivered.

But gun building kits do represent a significant loophole in the ATF’s regulations, which do not require registration or background checks for them. So a person can get 80% of a gun that way, get the other 20% (usually the “receiver,” which component qualifies the assembly as a firearm) by printing or another method, and have a gun with no serial number or registration whatsoever.

Garland has proposed a rule for the ATF to adopt that would change this and a few other things, such as easily purchased modifications for pistols that effectively make them into short-barreled rifles; the new rule would require those conversion kits to be registered. This presumably will follow the confirmation of the ATF’s first director in five years — the position was vacant for the whole last administration — David Chipmen, whom Biden plans to nominate.

Other efforts by the administration include a $5 billion, 8-year investment in community violence intervention programs, a push for “red flag” laws that temporarily bar people in crisis from obtaining guns, and a nudge for Congress to start working on legislation that addresses things the Executive can’t.

#atf, #defense-distributed, #firearms, #ghost-guns, #government, #gun-laws, #guns, #joe-biden, #president-biden, #white-house

0

Nuclear should be considered part of clean energy standard, White House says

Image of two power plant cooling towers.

Enlarge (credit: US DOE)

More details have emerged about the climate and energy priorities of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, and they include support for nuclear power and carbon capture with sequestration (CCS).

In a press conference yesterday with reporters, White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said the administration would seek to implement a clean energy standard that would encourage utilities to use greener power sources. She added that both nuclear and CCS would be included in the administration’s desired portfolio. The clean energy standard adds a climate dimension to the Biden administration’s recently announced infrastructure plan, seeking to put the US on a path to eliminating carbon pollution.

“We think a CES is appropriate and advisable, and we think the industry itself sees it as one of the most flexible and most effective tools,” McCarthy told reporters. “The CES is going to be fairly robust and it is going to be inclusive.”

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biden-administration, #climate-change, #green-energy, #policy, #science, #white-house

0

Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

0

White House signals coming antitrust push with Tim Wu appointment

The White House South Lawn, which is unfortunately not the view most folks working for a presidential administration have.

Enlarge / The White House South Lawn, which is unfortunately not the view most folks working for a presidential administration have. (credit: Joe Daniel Price | Getty Images)

Longtime tech critic Tim Wu is joining the Biden administration as an adviser on technology and competition, a signal that the White House is likely to push for policies that rein in Big Tech.

Wu will be serving on the National Economic Council as special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, the White House said this morning. Wu confirmed the news in a tweet.

Wu is best known in tech circles as the man who coined the term “net neutrality” in the early 2000s. He has held several positions at the federal level before, including advisory roles with both the Federal Trade Commission and the National Economic Council. He has also been a full professor at Columbia University law school since 2006, where he teaches First Amendment and antitrust law.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#antitrust, #biden-administration, #policy, #tim-wu, #white-house

0

Biden admin plans executive order to address chip-shortage woes

An older man in a suit speaks from the Resolute Desk.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden signing a different executive order on January 28, 2021. (credit: Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images)

The White House is launching an effort today to ease the global semiconductor supply crunch affecting a wide array of other industries, but any boost the administration can provide is likely to be on the far side of many more months of shortages.

President Joe Biden plans to sign an executive order this afternoon aimed at “securing America’s critical supply chains.” The order will address several challenges in the US supply chain, according to a fact sheet from the White House, with a particular focus on pharmaceuticals, mineral resources, semiconductors, and large-capacity batteries.

The order is a sort of combination of every US politicians’ favorite rallying cry—”more American jobs”—and an acknowledgement that shortages and production challenges in critical supply chains really have had a profound effect on the nation, especially in the past year. It calls for an immediate 100-day review that will “identify near-term steps the administration can take, including with Congress” to identify where the vulnerabilities in these supply chains are and what regulators or legislators can do to increase US manufacturing of these critical components.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biden, #biden-administration, #chip-shortage, #chips, #executive-orders, #policy, #semiconductors, #silicon-chips, #white-house

0

Bringing jobs and health benefits, BlocPower unlocks energy efficiency retrofits for low income communities

Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and better at withstanding climate change induced extreme weather is going to be a big, multi-billion dollar business. But it’s one that’s been hard for low-income communities to tap, thanks to obstacles ranging faulty incentive structures to an inability to adequately plan for which upgrades will be most effective in which buildings.

Enter BlocPower, a New York-based startup founded by a longtime advocate for energy efficiency and the job creation that comes with it, which has a novel solution for identifying, developing and profiting off of building upgrades in low income communities — all while supporting high-paying jobs for workers in the communities the company hopes to serve.

The company also has managed to raise $63 million in equity and debt financing to support its mission. That money is split between an $8 million investment from some of the country’s top venture firms and a $55 million debt facility structured in part by Goldman Sachs to finance the redevelopment projects that BlocPower is creating.

These capital commitments aren’t charity. Government dollars are coming for the industry and private companies from healthcare providers, to utility companies, to real estate developers and property managers all have a vested interest in seeing this market succeed.

There’s going to be over $1 billion carved out for weatherization and building upgrades in the stimulus package that’s still making its way through Congress

For BlocPower’s founder, Donnel Baird, the issue of seeing buildings revitalized and good high-paying jobs coming into local communities isn’t academic. Baird was born in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood and witnessed firsthand the violence and joblessness that was ripping the fabric of that rich and vibrant community apart during the crack epidemic and economic decline of the 1980s and early 90s.

Seeing that violence firsthand, including a shooting on his way to school, instilled in Baird a desire to “create jobs for disconnected Black and brown people” so they would never feel the hopelessness and lack of opportunity that fosters cycles of violence.

Some time after the shooting, Baird’s family relocated from Brooklyn to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and after graduating from Duke University, Baird became a climate activist and community organizer, with a focus on green jobs. That led to a role in the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and an offer to work in Washington on Obama’s staff.

Baird declined the opportunity, but did take on a role reaching out to communities and unions to help implement the first stimulus package that Obama and Biden put together to promote green jobs.

And it was while watching the benefits of that stimulus collapse under the weight of a fragmented building industry that Baird came up with the idea for BlocPower.

“It was all about the implementation challenges that we ran into,” Baird said. “If you have ten buildings on a block in Oakland and they were all built by the same developer at the same time. If you rebuild those buildings and you retrofit all of those buildings, in five of those buildings you’re going to trap carbon monoxide in and kill everybody and in the other five buildings you’re going to have a reduction in emissions and energy savings.”

Before conducting any retrofits to capture energy savings (and health savings, but more on that later), Baird says developers need to figure out the potential for asbestos contamination in the building; understand the current heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that the building uses; and get an assessment of what actually needs to be done.

That’s the core problem that Baird says BlocPower solves. The company has developed software to analyze a building’s construction by creating a virtual twin based on blueprints and public records. Using that digital twin the company can identify what upgrades a building needs. Then the company taps lines of credit to work with building owners to manage the retrofits and capture the value of the energy savings and carbon offsets associated with the building upgrades.

For BlocPower to work, the financing piece is just as important as the software. Without getting banks to sign off on loans to make the upgrades, all of those dollars from the federal government remain locked up. “That’s why the $7 billion earmarked for investment in green buildings did not work,” Baird said. “At BlocPower our view is that we could build software to simulate using government records… we could simulate enough about the mechanicals, electrical, and plumbing across buildings in NYC so that we could avoid that cost.”

Along with co-founder Morris Cox, Baird built BlocPower while at Columbia University’s business school so that he could solve the technical problems and overcome the hurdles for community financing of renewable retrofit projects.

Right before his graduation, in 2014, the company had applied for a contract to do energy efficiency retrofits and was set to receive financing from the Department of Energy. The finalists had to go down to the White House and pitch the President. That pitch was scheduled for the same day as a key final exam for one of Baird’s Columbia classes, which the professor said was mandatory. Baird skipped the test and won the pitch, but failed the class.

After that it was off to Silicon Valley to pitch the business. Baird met with 200 or more investors who rejected his pitch. Many of these investors had been burned in the first cleantech bubble or had witnessed the fiery conflagrations that engulfed firms that did back cleantech businesses and swore they’d never make the same mistakes.

That was the initial position at Andreessen Horowitz when Baird pitched them, he said. “When I went to Andreessen Horowitz, they said ‘Our policy is no cleantech whatsoever. You need to figure out how software is going to eat up this energy efficiency market’,” Baird recalled.

Working with Mitch Kapor, an investor and advisor, Baird worked on the pitch and got Kapor to talk to Ben Horowitz. Both men agreed to invest and BlocPower was off to the races.

The company has completed retrofits in over 1,000 buildings since its launch, Baird said, mainly to prove out its thesis. Now, with the revolving credit facility in hand, BlocPower can take bigger bites out of the market. That includes a contract with utility companies in New York that will pay $30 million if the company can complete its retrofits and verify the energy savings from that work.

There are also early projects underway in Oakland and Chicago, Baird said.

Building retrofits do more than just provide energy savings, as Goldman Sachs managing director Margaret Anadu noted in a statement.

“BlocPower is proving that it is possible to have commercial solutions that improve public health in underserved communities, create quality jobs and lower carbon emissions,” Anadu said. “We are so proud to have supported Donnel and his team…through both equity and debt capital to further expand their reach.”

These benefits also have potential additional revenue streams associated with them that BlocPower can also capture, according to investor and director, Mitch Kapor.

“There are significant linkages that are known between buildings and pollution that are a public health issue. In a number of geographies community hospitals are under a mandate to improve health outcomes and BlocPower can get paid from health outcomes associated with the reduction in carbon. That could be a new revenue stream and a financing mechanism,” Kapor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in essentially taking the value creation engine they have and figuring out where to bring it and which other engines they need to have to have the maximum social impact.”

Social impact is something that both Kapor and Baird talk about extensively and Baird sees the creation of green jobs as an engine for social justice — and one that can reunite a lot of working class voters whose alliances were fractured by the previous administration. Baird also believes that putting people to work is the best argument for climate change policies that have met with resistance among many union workers.

“We will not be able to pass shit unless workers and people of color are on board to force the U.S. senate to pass climate change policy,” Baird said. “We have to pass the legislation that’s going to facilitate green infrastructure in a massive way.”

He pointed to the project in Oakland as an example of how climate policies can create jobs and incentivize political action.

“In Oakland we’re doing a pilot project in 12 low income buildings in oakland. I sent them $20K to train these workers from local people of color in Oakland… they are being put to work in Oakland,” Baird said. “That’s the model for how this gets built. So now we need them to call Chuck Shumer to push him to the left on green building legislation.” 

 

#advisor, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #barack-obama, #ben-horowitz, #biden, #brooklyn, #chicago, #co-founder, #columbia, #columbia-university, #construction, #department-of-energy, #director, #duke-university, #energy, #energy-conservation, #energy-efficiency, #federal-government, #georgia, #goldman-sachs, #mitch-kapor, #new-york, #oakland, #president, #tc, #u-s-senate, #united-states, #washington, #white-house

0

Renewable investment wave continues as solar lending company Loanpal raises $800 million

Days after the billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya announced his involvement in the $1.3 billion acquisition of the solar and home improvement lending business Sunlight Financial, a collection of investors announced a nearly $1 billion cash infusion into Loanpal, another renewable energy and home improvement lender.

The $800 million commitment to Loanpal arrives alongside a flurry of climate commitments from some of the world’s largest investors.

Yesterday, Blackrock chief Larry Fink, released the $9 trillion investment manager’s annual letter calling for more stringent accounting and reporting of climate data, and Bank of America joined 60 other companies in committing to a new reporting standard for climate and sustainability endorsed by the International Business Council and the World Economic Forum. Fink endorses a separate reporting scheme called the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures that has the backing of some of the biggest financial investors in the world.

These new standards will drive more investment dollars into businesses that are reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change. And lending programs incentivizing the switch to more energy efficient appliances and renewable installations are probably the lowest of low hanging fruit for the financial services industry.

That’s one reason why investors like NEA, the WestCap Group, Brookfield Asset Management, and the giant private equity energy investment fund Riverstone Holdings are backing Loanpal.

The deal, which was a secondary transaction to give strategic investors a stake in the business actually wrapped up last year. As a result Scott Sandell, the managing general partner at NEA and a longtime investor in pr and Laurence Tosi, Managing Partner of WestCap Group, have joined the company’s board of directors.

“We invited a number of players into the company,” said Loanpal’s founder, chairman and chief executive Hayes Barnard. The former chief revenue officer for SolarCity before its acquisition by Tesla, Barnard has a long history with solar energy development. At Loanpal he also had the balance sheet to take his pick among would-be investors. “We’re a multi-billion dollar company,” said Barnard.

Loanpal founder chairman and chief executive, Hayes Barnard. Image Credit: Loanpal

“This was us inviting strategic investors into the company and being thoughtful about where they could help and how they could help,” Barnard said.

Loanpal is profitable, has zero debt and throws off monthly dividends to its financial backers. “Today we finance $400 million a month for roughly 15,000 solar systems that are combined with battery systems,” says Barnard. In all, the company has arranged $5.9 billion in consumer finance loans since its launch in 2018. Loanpal also counts around 85% of the top solar firms as vendors and has a staff of around 12,000 sales professionals.

Those numbers allowed the company to bring in board members like Tosi, the former chief financial officer of the multi-billion dollar financial services firm, Blackstone. “He really understands how to bring in capital markets at scale,” said Barnard. 

If anything, the attention from Blackrock, Blackstone, Riverstone and all the financial services firms without references to stones or rocks in their name shows that this is a problem of capital at scale. Decarbonizing the global economy is a $10 trillion business, according to the World Economic Forum (or, for the retail investment crowd, the equivalent of roughly 66.7 billion Gamestops at yesterday’s share price).

The near term market that we’re going to penetrate now is sustainable home solutions that’s a $100 billion market,” Barnard said. 

A significant chunk of that $10 trillion is going to come from the development and integration of new consumer facing appliances and hardware to reduce the consumption of energy. “We believe the battery storage market, the smart thermostat market and the solar market are all intertwined and combined,” said Barnard. “Overall the most important thing is that this is just technology that is better. It was going to scale regardless of who was in the White House. These pieces of technology are better, they save homeowners money.. It’s kind of an IQ test if homeowners want to do it.”

#bank-of-america, #blackrock, #blackstone, #chamath-palihapitiya, #chief-financial-officer, #economy, #energy, #finance, #general-partner, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #laurence-tosi, #managing-partner, #money, #nea, #officer, #private-equity, #renewable-energy, #riverstone-holdings, #scott-sandell, #solarcity, #tc, #tesla, #white-house, #world-economic-forum

0

Decrypted: With more SolarWinds fallout, Biden picks his cybersecurity team

All change in the capital as the Biden administration takes charge, and thankfully without a hitch (or violence) after the attempted insurrection two weeks earlier.

In this week’s Decrypted, we look at the ongoing fallout from the SolarWinds breach and who the incoming president wants to lead the path to recovery. Plus, the news in brief.


THE BIG PICTURE

Google says SolarWinds exposure “limited,” more breaches confirmed

The cyberattack against SolarWinds, an ongoing espionage campaign already blamed on Russia, claimed the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as another federal victim this week. The attack also hit cybersecurity company Malwarebytes, the company’s chief executive confirmed. Marcin Kleczynski said in a blog post that attackers gained access to a “limited” number of internal company emails. It was the same attackers as SolarWinds but using a different intrusion route. It’s now the third security company known to have been targeted by the same Russian hackers after a successful intrusion at FireEye and an unsuccessful attempt at CrowdStrike.

#anne-neuberger, #app-maker, #biden-administration, #china, #computer-security, #computing, #cybersecurity-startup, #european-medical-agency, #federal-trade-commission, #fireeye, #flo, #india, #malwarebytes, #national-security-council, #operating-systems, #russia, #security, #signal, #social-media, #software, #startups, #united-kingdom, #web-application-firewalls, #whatsapp, #white-house

0

The biggest step the Biden administration took on climate yesterday wasn’t rejoining the Paris Agreement

While the Biden Administration is being celebrated for its decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement in one of its first executive orders after President Joe Biden was sworn in, it wasn’t the biggest step the administration took to advance its climate agenda.

Instead it was a move to get to the basics of monitoring and accounting, of metrics and dashboards. While companies track their revenues and expenses and monitor for all sorts of risks, impacts from climate change and emissions aren’t tracked in the same way. Now, in the same way there are general principals for accounting for finance, there will be principals for accounting for the impact of climate through what’s called the social cost of carbon.

Among the flurry of paperwork coming from Biden’s desk were Executive Orders calling for a review of Trump era rule-making around the environment and the reinstitution of strict standards for fuel economy, methane emissions, appliance and building efficiency, and overall emissions. But even these steps are likely to pale in significance to the fifth section of the ninth executive order to be announced by the new White House.

That’s the section addressing the accounting for the benefits of reducing climate pollution. Until now, the U.S. government hasn’t had a framework for accounting for what it calls the “full costs of greenhouse gas emissions” by taking “global damages into account”.

All of this is part of a broad commitment to let data and science inform policymaking across government, according to the Biden Administration.

Biden writes:

“It is, therefore, the policy of my Administration to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.”

The specific section of the order addressing accounting and accountability calls for a working group to come up with three metrics: the social cost of carbon (SCC), the social cost of nitrous oxide (SCN) and the social cost of methane (SCM) that will be used to estimate the monetized damages associated with increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

As the executive order notes, “[an] accurate social cost is essential for agencies to accurately determine the social benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when conducting cost-benefit analyses of regulatory and other actions.” What the Administration is doing is attempting to provide a financial figure for the damages wrought by greenhouse gas emissions in terms of rising interest rates, and the destroyed farmland and infrastructure caused by natural disasters linked to global climate change.

These kinds of benchmarks aren’t flashy, but they are concrete ways to determine accountability. That accountability will become critical as the country takes steps to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement. It also gives companies looking to address their emissions footprints an economic framework to point to as they talk to their investors and the public.

The initiative will include top leadership like the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (a position that Biden elevated to a cabinet level post).

Representatives from each of the major federal agencies overseeing the economy, national health, and the environment will be members of the working group along with the representatives or the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council.

While the rule-making is proceeding at the federal level, some startups are already developing services to help businesses monitor their emissions output.

These are companies like CarbonChainPersefoni, and SINAI Technologies. And their work compliments non-profits like CDP, which works with companies to assess carbon emissions.

Biden’s plan will have the various agencies and departments working quickly. The administration expects an interim SCC, SCN, and SCM within the next 30 days, which agencies will use when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations and agency actions. The President wants final metrics will be published by January of next year.

The executive order also restored protections to national parks and lands that had been opened to oil and gas exploration and commercial activity under the Trump Administration and blocked the development of the Keystone Pipeline, which would have brought oil from Canadian tar sands into and through the U.S.

“The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the U.S. national interest. The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory. At home, we will combat the crisis with an ambitious plan to build back better, designed to both reduce harmful emissions and create good clean-energy jobs,” according to the text of the Executive Order. “The United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership in order to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway. Leaving the Key`12stone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”

#articles, #biden-administration, #carbonchain, #chair, #director, #executive, #greenhouse-gas, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #joe-biden, #office-of-management-and-budget, #oil, #persefoni, #president, #sinai-technologies, #tc, #trump, #trump-administration, #u-s-government, #united-states, #white-house

0

White House, dark mode: Biden admin refreshes Presidency’s website, vows accessibility

WhiteHouse.gov, the official website for all Presidential actions and efforts, is among the first things to be changed up under the freshly inaugurated President Biden. A fashionable dark mode appeared, a large text toggle for straining eyes, and the webmaster has committed to making the whole site conform to the latest accessibility guidelines.

The look isn’t so very different from the previous administration’s site — they’re both fairly modern and minimal experiences, with big photos up front and tidy lists of priorities and announcements once you drill down into a category.

Animation showing dark and light modes on whitehouse.gov

Image Credits: White House

But one big design change implemented by the new administration that many will appreciate is the inclusion of a dark mode, or high contrast mode, and a large type toggle.

Dark modes have been around forever, but became de rigeur when Apple implemented its own system-wide versions on iOS and macOS a while back. It’s just easier on the eyes in many ways, and at any rate it’s nice to give users options.

The WhiteHouse.gov dark mode changes the headline type from a patriotic blue to an eye-friendly off-white, with links a calming Dijon. Even the White House logo itself goes from a dark blue background to full black with a white border. It’s all very tasteful, and if anything seems like a low contrast mode, not high.

The large type mode does what it says, making everything considerably bigger and easier to tap or click. The toggles, it must be said, are a bit over-prominent, but they’ll probably tweak that soon.

More important is the pledge in the accessibility section:

This commitment to accessibility for all begins with this site and our efforts to ensure all functionality and all content is accessible to all Americans.

Our ongoing accessibility effort works towards conforming to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1, level AA criteria.

The WCAG guidelines are a set of best practices for designing a website so that its content can be easily accessed by people who use screen readers, need captions for audio, or can’t use a mouse or touchscreen easily. The guidelines aren’t particularly hard to meet, but as many have pointed out, it’s harder to retrofit a website to be accessible than to design it for accessibility from the start.

One thing I noticed was that many of the photos on the White House website have alt text or visible captions attached — these help visually impaired visitors understand what’s in an image. Here’s an example:

Screenshot showing the alt text of a photo of VP Kamala Harris and her family

Image Credits: White House

 

 

 

 

Normally that alt text would be read out by a screen reader when it got to the image, but it’s generally not made visible.

Unless the metadata was stripped from the previous administration’s site (it’s archived here), none of the photos I checked had text descriptions there, so this is a big improvement. Unfortunately some photos (like the big header photo on the front page) don’t have descriptions, something that should probably be remedied.

Accessibility in other places will mean prompt inclusion of plaintext versions of governance items and announcements (versus PDFs or other documents), captions on official videos and other media, and as the team notes, lots of little improvements that make the site better for everyone who visits.

It’s a small thing in a way, compared with the changes expected to accompany the new administration, but small things tend to pile up and become big things.

As Microsoft’s Isaac Hepworth noted, there’s still lots of work to do, and that’s why U.S. Digital Services hid a little message in the source code:

Section of source code asking for help from the US Digital Services administration

Image Credits: White House

If you’re interested in helping out, sign up here.

#accessibility, #biden-administration, #design, #government, #white-house

0

Attempt to “red team” climate research comes to a pathetic and confused end [Update]

A three panel image featuring clouds, power plant exhaust, and ice.

Enlarge (credit: NASA)

Update, 3:45pm Eastern: The OSTP has now released a formal statement on these documents via a pair of tweets, and it is an angry one. “Dr. Droegemeier was outraged to learn of the materials that were not shared with or approved by OSTP leadership,” the statement reads. “He first became aware of the documents when contacted by the press, As a result, Dr. Droegemeier took swift action and the individuals responsible have been relieved of their duties at OSTP.”

That would still leave Legates and Maue with positions at NOAA, but there is probably not enough time left in the administration for them to even establish a role for themselves in that agency, much less do further damage.

Original coverage follows.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#climate-change, #garbage, #noaa, #ostp, #science, #white-house

0

Pro-Trump mob storms the US Capitol, touting ‘Stop the Steal’ conspiracy

A chaotic scene unfolded in Washington D.C. on Wednesday as a large crowd of pro-Trump protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol Building.

The Trump supporters flooded into the nation’s capital to attend a rally held earlier by President Trump outside the White House. The rally was timed to protest lawmakers gathering Wednesday to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win.

At his own event, Trump encouraged his supporters to continue demonstrating against Congress, claiming incorrectly that Vice President Mike Pence holds the power to overturn the election results. While the situation is still unfolding, protesters penetrated the Capitol building and injuries have been confirmed, including at least one gunshot victim.

As Trump supporters flooded up the Capitol steps with “Make America Great Again” hats and “Stop the Steal” banners, the president did little to quell the violence. “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “USA demands the truth!”

Twitter appended a warning label calling Trump’s election fraud claims “disputed” to the tweet. After his supporters already made their way into the Capitol building, the president seemed to walk back his calls to action, calling for supporters to remain peaceful.

The Stop the Steal movement grew out of online conspiracies boosting Trump’s unfounded claims that Democrats had in some way rigged the presidential election. In reality, U.S. electoral results were decisively in favor of Biden, though votes trickled in over an extended period of time, as expected, due to a massive expansion of pandemic-related mail-in voting.

Facebook made efforts to rein in Stop the Spread groups soon after the election, blocking the hashtag for violating its rules around election misinformation. “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said at the time.

Stop the Steal supporters also found a foothold on many other platforms, including Reddit, Twitter and alternative social networks like Gab and Parler, which have attracted far-right users with policies much friendlier to extremist content. The crowd at the capitol also shares considerable overlap with QAnon, a constellation of conspiracy theories that exploded on Facebook, YouTube and other online platforms over the last few years.

This story is developing.

#congress, #deception, #donald-trump, #government, #online-platforms, #parler, #president, #presidential-election, #qanon, #social-networks, #spokesperson, #tc, #trump, #twitter, #united-states, #vice-president, #washington-d-c, #white-house

0

Decrypted: Google finds a devastating iPhone security flaw, FireEye hack sends alarm bells ringing

In case you missed it: A ransomware attack saw patient data stolen from one of the largest U.S. fertility networks; the Supreme Court began hearing a case that may change how millions of Americans use computers and the internet; and lawmakers in Massachusetts have voted to ban police from using facial recognition across the state.

In this week’s Decrypted, we’re deep-diving into two stories beyond the headlines, including why the breach at cybersecurity giant FireEye has the cybersecurity industry in shock.


THE BIG PICTURE

Google researcher finds a major iPhone security bug, now fixed

What happens when you leave one of the best security researchers alone for six months? You get one of the most devastating vulnerabilities ever found in an iPhone — a bug so damaging that it can be exploited over-the-air and requires no interaction on the user’s part.

The AWDL bug under attack using a proof-of-concept exploit developed by a Google researcher. Image Credits: Ian Beer/Google Project Zero

The vulnerability was found in Apple Wireless Direct Link (AWDL), an important part of the iPhone’s software that among other things allows users to share files and photos over Wi-Fi through Apple’s AirDrop feature.

“AWDL is enabled by default, exposing a large and complex attack surface to everyone in radio proximity,” wrote Google’s Ian Beer in a tweet, who found the vulnerability in November and disclosed it to Apple, which pushed out a fix for iPhones and Macs in January.

But exploiting the bug allowed Beer to gain access to the underlying iPhone software using Wi-Fi to gain control of a vulnerable device — including the messages, emails and photos — as well as the camera and microphone — without alerting the user. Beer said that the bug could be exploited over “hundreds of meters or more,” depending on the hardware used to carry out the attack. But the good news is that there’s no evidence that malicious hackers have actively tried to exploit the bug.

News of the bug drew immediate attention, though Apple didn’t comment. NSA’s Rob Joyce said the bug find is “quite an accomplishment,” given that most iOS bugs require chaining multiple vulnerabilities together in order to get access to the underlying software.

FireEye hacked by a nation-state, but the aftermath is unclear

#apple, #articles, #computer-security, #cyberattacks, #cyberwarfare, #decrypted, #dragos, #fireeye, #google, #government, #infrastructure, #iphone, #massachusetts, #national-security-agency, #online-platforms, #orca-security, #president, #ransomware, #ron-wyden, #security, #series-b, #supreme-court, #the-washington-post, #trump, #u-s-government, #white-house, #wi-fi

0

WH’s AI EO is BS

An Executive Order was just issued from the White House regarding “the Use of Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence in Government.” Leaving aside the meritless presumption of the government’s own trustworthiness and that it is the software that has trust issues, the order is almost entirely hot air.

The EO is like others in that it is limited to what a President can peremptorily force federal agencies to do — and that really isn’t very much, practically speaking. This one “directs Federal agencies to be guided” by nine principles, which gives away the level of impact right there. Please, agencies — be guided!

And then, of course, all military and national security activities are excepted, which is where AI systems are at their most dangerous and oversight is most important. No one is worried about what NOAA is doing with AI — but they are very concerned with what three-letter agencies and the Pentagon are getting up to. (They have their own, self-imposed rules.)

The principles are something of a wish list. AI used by the feds must be

lawful; purposeful and performance-driven; accurate, reliable, and effective; safe, secure, and resilient; understandable; responsible and traceable; regularly monitored; transparent; and accountable.

I would challenge anyone to find any significant deployment of AI that is all of these things, anywhere in the world. Any agency claims that an AI or machine learning system they use adheres to all these principles as they are detailed in the EO should be treated with extreme skepticism.

It’s not that the principles themselves are bad or pointless — it’s certainly important that an agency be able to quantify the risks when considering using AI for something, and that there is a process in place for monitoring their effects. But an Executive Order doesn’t accomplish this. Strong laws, likely starting at the city and state level, have already shown what it is to demand AI accountability, and though a federal law is unlikely to appear any time soon, this is not a replacement for a comprehensive bill. It’s just too hand-wavey on just about everything. Besides, many agencies already adopted “principles” like these years ago.

The one thing the EO does in fact do is compel each agency to produce a list of all the uses to which it is putting AI, however it may be defined. Of course, it’ll be more than a year before we see that.

Within 60 days of the order, the agencies will choose the format for this AI inventory; 180 days after that, the inventory must be completed; 120 days after that, the inventory must be completed and reviewed for consistency with the principles; plans to bring systems in line with them the agencies must “strive” to accomplish within 180 further days; meanwhile, within 60 days of the inventories having been completed they must be shared with other agencies; then, within 120 days of completion, they must be shared with the public (minus anything sensitive for law enforcement, national security, etc).

In theory we might have those inventories in a month, but in practice we’re looking at about a year and a half, at which point we’ll have a snapshot of AI tools from the previous administration, with all the juicy bits taken out at their discretion. Still, it might make for interesting reading depending on what exactly goes into it.

This Executive Order is, like others of its ilk, an attempt by this White House to appear as an active leader on something that is almost entirely out of their hands. To develop and deploy AI should certainly be done according to common principles, but even if those principles could be established in a top-down fashion, this loose, lightly binding gesture that kind-of, sort-of makes some agencies have to pinky-swear to think real hard about them isn’t the way to do it.

#executive-order, #government, #opinion, #tc, #white-house

0

Tech in the Biden era

President-elect Joe Biden may have spent eight years in an administration that doted on the tech industry, but that long honeymoon, punctuated by four years of Trump, looks to be over.

Tech is on notice in 2020. The Russian election interference saga of the 2016 election opened the floodgates for social media’s ills. The subsequent years unleashed dangerous torrents of homegrown extremism and misinformation that either disillusioned or radicalized regular people. A cluster of tech’s biggest data brokers further consolidated power, buying up any would-be competitor they stumbled across and steamrolling everything else. Things got so bad that Republicans and Democrats, in uncanny agreement, are both pushing plans to regulate tech.

Suddenly, allowing the world’s information merchants to grow, unmolested, into towering ad-fed behemoths over the last decade looked like a huge mistake. And that’s where we are today.

Biden and big tech

Biden didn’t make attacking tech a cornerstone of his campaign and mostly avoided weighing in on tech issues, even as Elizabeth Warren stirred the big tech backlash into the campaign conversation. His attitude toward the tech industry at large is a bit mysterious, but there are some things we do know.

The president-elect is expected to keep the Trump administration’s antitrust case against Google on track, potentially even opening additional cases into Facebook, Amazon and Apple. But his campaign also leaned on former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for early fundraising, so the relationship to Google looks a bit more complex than the Biden team’s open contempt for a company like Facebook.

As Biden picked up the nomination and the months wore on, it became clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s chumminess with Trump’s White House was unlikely to continue into a Biden administration. By September, the Biden campaign had penned a scathing letter to Mark Zuckerberg denouncing Facebook as the “foremost propagator” of election disinformation, and that frustration doesn’t seem to have dissipated. His deputy communications director recently criticized Facebook for “shredding” the fabric of democracy. It appears that Facebook could come to regret the many decisions it’s made to stay in the Trump administration’s good graces over the last four years.

Still, it’s not doom and gloom for all tech — big tech isn’t everything. There are plenty of potential bright spots, from Biden’s climate plans (lack of Senate control notwithstanding), which could crack open a whole new industry and shower it in federal dollars, to his intention to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, from telecommunications and transportation to energy-efficient housing. 

And antitrust legislation, usually framed as an existential threat to “tech” broadly, actually stands to benefit the startup scene, where the largest tech companies have walled off many paths to innovation with years of anti-competitive behavior. If Congress, states and/or the Justice Department manages to get anywhere with the antitrust actions percolating now — and there are many things percolating — the result could open up paths for startups that would prefer a more interesting exit than being bought and subsumed (best case) or shuttered (worst case) into one of five or so tech mega-companies.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is another wildcard. Hailing from tech’s backyard, Harris brings a distinctly Bay Area vibe to the office. Most interesting is Harris’s brother-in-law Tony West. West is Uber’s chief legal officer and played a prominent role in pushing for California’s Proposition 22, which absolved gig economy companies like Lyft and Uber from the need to grant their workers benefits afforded to full-time employees. Siding with organized labor, Harris landed on the other side of the issue.

The extent of her relationships in the tech world isn’t totally clear, but she apparently has a friendly relationship with Sheryl Sandberg, who was a frontrunner for a Treasury or Commerce position four years ago in the advent of a Hillary Clinton win. 

The Biden administration will also have all kinds of quiet ties to power players in the tech world, many of whom served in the Obama years and then made a beeline for Silicon Valley. Apple’s Lisa Jackson, formerly of Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and Jay Carney, a former Obama spokesman who sits comfortably as SVP of global corporate affairs at Amazon, are two examples there.

Transition names from tech

The Biden administration’s transition list is generously peppered with names from the tech industry, though some of them are likely grandfathered in from the Obama era rather than pulled directly for their more recent industry experience. The list named Matt Olsen, Uber’s chief trust and security officer, for his prior experience in the intel community under Obama rather than his ridesharing industry insights, for example.

The list doesn’t include any names fresh from Facebook or Google, but it does include four members from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and one from Eric Schmidt’s philanthropic project Schmidt Futures. The list also suggests a degree of continuity with the Obama era, with the inclusion of Aneesh Chopra, the first U.S. CTO, and Nicole Wong, a former deputy chief technology officer under Obama who previously worked at Twitter and Google. The transition also includes a smattering of names that served in the digital services agency 18F and some from the USDS, which borrows talent from the tech world to solve public problems.

Other names from the tech world include Airbnb’s Divya Kumaraiah and Clare Gallagher, Lyft’s Brandon Belford, Arthur Plews of Stripe, Dell CTO Ann Dunkin and quite a few more. These transition figures will help the administration fill the many open slots in a new government, but they’re less telling than who gets called to the cabinet. 

Tech in the cabinet? Maybe.

Beyond reading the tea leaves of the transition team and Biden’s previous statements here and there, we’re in for a wait. The administration’s picks for its cabinets will say a lot about its priorities, but for now we’re mostly left with the rumor mill. 

What does the rumor mill suggest? Meg Whitman, the former HP and eBay CEO most recently at the helm of failed short-form streaming platform Quibi, keeps coming up as a symbolic across-the-aisle pick for the Commerce Department, though Quibi’s spectacular dive probably doesn’t bode well for her chances.

Eric Schmidt’s name has bubbled up to lead some kind of White House tech task force, but that seems ill-fated considering the federal antitrust case against Google and the broader legislative appetite for doing something about big tech. But Alphabet board member Roger Ferguson, whose name has been floating around for Treasury Secretary, just stepped down from his current position at a finance firm, kicking up more speculation.

Seth Harris, who served in Obama’s Labor Department, made at least one list suggesting he could land a cabinet position. Harris, who is already involved in the Biden transition, also has the controversial distinction of proposing a “new legal category” of worker “for those who occupy the gray area between employees and independent contractors.” Lyft apparently cited his paper specifically after Prop 22 passed. With labor a hot issue in general right now — and Bernie Sanders himself potentially in the running for the same role — Harris would likely ignite a firestorm of controversy among labor activists if appointed to helm the department. 

On the other side of the coin, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra could be considered for a cabinet-level role in the Department of Justice. Becerra isn’t from the tech world, but as California’s AG he’s been stationed there and his department currently has its own antitrust case against Google simmering. In a recent interview with Bloomberg about antitrust issues under the Biden administration, Becerra denounced “behemoths” in the tech industry that stifle innovation, noting that state AGs have “taken the lead” on pressing tech companies on anti-competitive behavior.

“At the end of the day we all want competition, right?” Becerra said. “But here’s the thing, competition is essential if you want innovation.” Becerra, who succeeded Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when she left the Attorney General’s office for Congress, could also again follow in her footsteps, filling the vacant seat she will leave in the Senate come January.

All told, we’re seeing some familiar names in the mix, but 2020 isn’t 2008. Tech companies that emerged as golden children over the last ten years are radioactive now. Regulation looms on the horizon in every direction. Whatever policy priorities emerge out of the Biden administration, Obama’s technocratic gilded age is over and we’re in for something new.

#amazon, #antitrust, #apple, #facebook, #government, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #tc, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #white-house

0

Trump fires US cybersecurity official Chris Krebs for debunking false election claims

Chris Krebs, one of the most senior cybersecurity officials in the U.S. government, has been fired.

Krebs served as the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) since its founding in November 2018 until he was removed from his position on Tuesday. It’s not immediately clear who is currently heading the agency. A spokesperson for CISA did not immediately comment.

President Trump fired Krebs in a tweet late on Tuesday, citing a statement published by CISA last week, which found there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” Trump, who has repeatedly made claims of voter fraud without providing evidence, alleged that CISA’s statement was “highly inaccurate.”

Shortly after, Twitter labeled Trump’s tweet for making a “disputed” claim about election fraud.

Reuters first reported the news of Krebs’ potential firing last week.

Krebs was appointed by President Trump to head the newly created cybersecurity agency in November 2018, just days after the conclusion of the midterm elections. He previously served as an under secretary for CISA’s predecessor, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, and also held cybersecurity policy roles at Microsoft.

During his time in government, Krebs became one of the most vocal voices in election security, taking the lead during 2018 and in 2020, which largely escaped from disruptive cyberattacks, thanks to efforts to prepare for cyberattacks and misinformation that plagued the 2016 presidential election.

He was “one of the few people in this administration respected by everyone on both sides of the aisle,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a tweet.

Krebs is the latest official to leave CISA in the past year. Brian Harrell, who oversaw infrastructure protection at the agency, resigned in August after less than a year on the job, and Jeanette Manfra, who left for a role at Google at the end of last year. Cyberscoop reported Thursday that Bryan Ware, CISA’s assistant director for cybersecurity, resigned for a position in the private sector.

#articles, #computer-security, #cryptography, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #director, #government, #president, #presidential-election, #secretary, #security, #trump, #u-s-government, #united-states, #white-house

0

Expansive White House COVID outbreak sidelines 10% of Secret Service

A member of the United States Secret Service wearing a face mask stands guard as President Donald J. Trump speaks to supporters from the Blue Room balcony during an event at the White House on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / A member of the United States Secret Service wearing a face mask stands guard as President Donald J. Trump speaks to supporters from the Blue Room balcony during an event at the White House on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

The latest coronavirus outbreak at the White House continues to expand and has now sidelined roughly 10 percent of the Secret Service’s core security team, according to a report by The Washington Post.

More than 130 Secret Service officers who guard the White House and the president are now infected or in quarantine after close contact with infected co-workers. A former senior Secret Service supervisor told the Post that missing over 130 of the agency’s 1,300 officers in the Uniformed Division “does not bode well for White House security.”

People familiar with the matter have linked the spread of the coronavirus among Secret Service agents in part to the president’s whirlwind travel and crowded campaign rallies in the run-up to the election. The agency is also looking into possible exposures at the White House.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#covid-19, #infectious-disease, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #secret-service, #trump, #white-house

0

Report: White House pressuring CISA to stop debunking election nonsense

A somewhat irritated-looking man in a suit listens from behind a microphone.

Enlarge / Christopher Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. (credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As Donald Trump and his allies have touted unproven claims of election fraud over the last week, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and its leader, Chris Krebs, have swatted them down. CISA has set up a “Rumor Control” page that debunks common claims about the election.

Now Reuters is reporting that the agency has come under pressure from the White House to knock it off:

White House officials have asked for content to be edited or removed which pushed back against numerous false claims about the election, including that Democrats are behind a mass election fraud scheme. CISA officials have chosen not to delete accurate information.

Krebs expects the White House to fire him, according to three sources who talked to Reuters.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#chris-krebs, #cisa, #donald-trump, #policy, #white-house

0

Coronavirus outbreak at White House grows as US tops 10 million cases

A man in a suit speaks at a podium.

Enlarge / US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium on August 27, 2020, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Nicholas Kamm)

The United States surpassed 10 million coronavirus cases Monday as yet another cluster within the White House grew to at least eight.

Ben Carson, a 69-year-old neurosurgeon and the current secretary of housing and urban development, tested positive for the virus early Monday. This afternoon, news broke that David Bossie, one of President Donald Trump’s advisors, is also infected with the pandemic virus and tested positive Sunday.

The two new positive cases connected to Trump and the White House follow reports late Friday of six cases in the White House, including Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, Trump campaign advisor Nick Trainer, and four unnamed aides. Meadows reportedly told staff he had tested positive last Wednesday.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #public-health, #sars-cov-2, #science, #superspreader, #trump, #white-house

0

President Trump’s Twitter accessed by security expert who guessed password “maga2020!”

A Dutch security researcher says he accessed President Trump’s @realDonaldTrump Twitter account last week by guessing his password: “maga2020!”.

Victor Gevers, a security researcher at the GDI Foundation and chair of the Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure, which finds and reports security vulnerabilities, told TechCrunch he guessed the president’s account password and was successful on the fifth attempt.

The account was not protected by two-factor authentication, granting Gevers access to the president’s account.

After logging in, he emailed US-CERT, a division of Homeland Security’s cyber unit Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), to disclose the security lapse, which TechCrunch has seen. Gevers said the president’s Twitter password was changed shortly after.

A screenshot from inside Trump’s Twitter account. (Image: Victor Gevers)

It’s the second time Gevers has gained access to Trump’s Twitter account.

The first time was in 2016, when Gevers and two others extracted and cracked Trump’s password from the 2012 LinkedIn breach. The researchers took his password — “yourefired” — his catchphrase from the television show The Apprentice — and found it let them into his Twitter account. Gevers reported the breach to local authorities in the Netherlands, with suggestions on how Trump could improve his password security. One of the passwords he suggested at the time was “maga2020!” he said. Gevers said he “did not expect” the password to work years later.

Dutch news outlet RTL News first reported the story.

Trump’s account is said to be locked down with extra protections after he became president, though Twitter has not said publicly what those protections entail. His account was untouched by hackers who broke into Twitter’s network in July in order to abuse an “admin tool” to hijack high-profile accounts and spread a cryptocurrency scam.

A spokesperson for the White House and the Trump campaign did not immediately comment. A Twitter spokesperson did not comment on the record. A spokesperson for CISA did not immediately confirm the report.

Gevers has previously reported security incidents involving a facial recognition database used to track Uyghur Muslims and a vulnerability in Oman’s stock exchange.

#chair, #donald-trump, #facial-recognition, #netherlands, #oman, #operating-systems, #president, #security, #social-media, #software, #spokesperson, #trump, #united-states, #white-house

0

White House informally endorses letting pandemic spread unchecked

Image of the White House.

Enlarge / Nobody from the White House went on record as supporting herd immunity. (credit: Congressional Budget Offic)

On Monday, the White House hosted a pandemic-focused call for the press “on background”—intended to provide a window into the administration’s thinking, but not to provide quotes that could be attributed to any government official. During the call, the unspecified White House officials touted a document supporting the idea of herd immunity as a plan to control the pandemic, saying it reflected the administration’s thinking.

The document, called the Great Barrington Declaration, was prepared by a libertarian think tank with the assistance of a handful of scientists who have been pushing the idea that COVID-19 isn’t much of a threat. And it has attracted enough attention that the World Health Organization decided to address it. The result severely undercut whatever the White House intended to accomplish.

“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic,” the WHO’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “It’s scientifically and ethically problematic.”

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cdc, #covid-19, #pandemic, #policy, #sars-cov-2, #science, #trump, #trump-administration, #white-house, #who

0

Second U.S. Presidential debate will be done remotely via live-streamed video (Update: Trump says he won’t participate)

The next U.S. Presidential debate between President Trump and Democratic candidate and former VP Joe Biden will be done remotely, the U.S. Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced today. This follows an intense news cycle that came immediately after the first Presidential debate, which saw Trump and a large number of his White House inner circle diagnosed with COVID-19. This debate will be held as a “town meeting,” as planned, the CPD said via a statement today, with each candidate piped in form a sarape location, and C-SPAN moderator Steve Scully also located separately in the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

This is a historic first for the Presidential debate, though also something that’s not entirely unexpected given the coronavirus pandemic, and the recent diagnoses of Trump and his staff. Biden has since been tested and received negative results, indicating that he didn’t contract COVID-19 from the socially distanced first debate, but the added measures and precautions make sense in the wake of the President’s apparent super-spreader event. Last night’s VP debate took place in person (Pence has tested negative for the virus at last check), but did include 12 feet of separation between the VP and Democrat Kamala Harris, as well as the use of plastic dividers.

No word yet on what specific technology will be used in this virtual debate, or what venues each of the candidates will be using for their respective video feeds. We’ll update this post when and if we learn more.

Following this announcement by the CPD, Trump said during a live interview on Fox News on Thursday morning that he would not participate if the event goes ahead as a virtual debate. We’ll update this as more info becomes available.

#donald-trump, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #miami, #politicians, #president, #tc, #trump, #united-states, #vp, #white-house

0

Trump likely overstepped authority with TikTok ban, judge rules

TikTok logo next to inverted US flag.

Enlarge / TikTok’s US fate is up in the air, but at least you can still download and patch it. (credit: SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban TikTok from operating inside the United States probably exceeds the authority the president has to do such things, a federal judge has ruled.

TikTok narrowly avoided being removed from app stores last night when Judge Carl Nichols of the US District Court for DC issued an injunction late yesterday requiring the government to pause on its ban. TikTok got its reprieve, but the terms of the order (PDF) were sealed until midday today.

To meet the standard for an injunction, Nichols explained, TikTok basically needed to prove four things to his satisfaction. The first factor, however, is the most important: TikTok needed to prove its case is “likely to succeed on the merits.” In plain English, that means: is it going to win its lawsuit against the administration? And the answer, Nichols determined, is probably yes, because the actions the administration took “likely exceed the lawful bounds” of the law under which those actions were taken.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bans, #bytedance, #lawsuits, #policy, #prohibitions, #tiktok, #trump, #white-house

0

TikTok’s fate to go down to the wire; judge will rule before midnight

TikTok’s fate to go down to the wire; judge will rule before midnight

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

TikTok will be gone from app stores tomorrow morning unless a federal judge acts to block the Trump administration’s ban on the app before midnight tonight.

Judge Carl Nichols of the US District Court for DC said today that he will determine whether to grant or reject TikTok’s request for an injunction on the ban before the deadline hits at the stroke of 12.

In a hearing on Thursday, Nichols gave the administration until Friday afternoon either to delay or defend the ban. The administration chose to file a response defending the ban but did so under seal, so the filings are not available to the public.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bans, #bytedance, #china, #national-security, #policy, #tiktok, #trump, #white-house

0

Judge gives Trump admin. Friday deadline to delay or defend TikTok ban

A stand of TikTok (Douyin) at The First International Artificial Products Expo Hangzhou on October 18, 2019, in Hangzhou, China.

Enlarge / A stand of TikTok (Douyin) at The First International Artificial Products Expo Hangzhou on October 18, 2019, in Hangzhou, China. (credit: Long Wei | VCG | Getty Images)

A federal judge today gave the Trump administration until Friday to either defend its planned ban of short-form-video app TikTok in court or hold off on it, adding one more wrinkle to the seemingly endless on-again, off-again saga.

If the government doesn’t voluntarily postpone the planned TikTok ban by 2:30pm (EDT) on Friday, then it will have to show up for a hearing on Sunday morning, where he will rule on TikTok’s request for an injunction on the ban, Judge Carl Nichols of the US District Court for DC said today.

Nichols said that the ban, if it takes effect, could prevent potentially hundreds of thousands of new users per day from signing up for TikTok. “I don’t think [a ban] merely preserves the status quo,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#bans, #courts, #policy, #tiktok, #trump-administration, #white-house

0