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Tech News

Trump claims he’s suing Facebook, Twitter, and Google over censorship

Donald Trump says he’s suing Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter boss Jack Dorsey, Google head Sundar Pichai, and their respective companies, alleging that they’ve violated First Amendment rights.

Up-front: Trump said at a press conference on Tuesday that he’s the lead representative in the class-action lawsuits:

We’re asking the US district court for the southern district of Florida to order an immediate halt to social media companies’ illegal, shameful, censorship of the American people. And that’s exactly what they are doing. We’re demanding an end to the shadow banning, a stop to the silencing, and a stop to the blacklisting, banishing, and canceling that you know so well.

The former president also said his team would make sure that liability protections provided to tech firms under section 230 are “at a very minimum changed — and at a very maximum, taken away.”

As for who is taking on the case, Trump said he’s recruited the “best lawyers — the tobacco lawyers.”

Background: Trump’s announcement was his latest salvo against the social media giants.

He was banned from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in the wake of the US Capitol riots on January 6.

Twitter has permanently banned him, while Facebook will consider reinstating his accounts in 2023 — a year before the next US presidential election. YouTube says it will lift the suspension “when we determine that the risk of violence has decreased.”

Trump made the announcement on the same day that reports claimed he said Adolf Hitler “did a lot of good things.”  

Quick take: The loss of Trump‘s social media accounts has reduced the reach of his inflammatory rhetoric. Social media interactions about him fell 91% between January and May, according to data from NewsWhip.

The announcement of the litigation is Trump’s latest attempt to get his social media megaphones back. But his recent record of losing lawsuits suggests he’ll have a tough job winning the case — if it even gets filed. Trump has a record of threatening legal action but not following through.

 

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Tech News

US cancels crucial $10B military AI project because Trump is a baby

The Pentagon yesterday announced it was scuttling its long-doomed “Project JEDI,” a cloud-services AI contract that was awarded to Microsoft in 2019.

Up front: Project JEDI is a big deal. The US military needs a reliable cloud-service platform from which to operate its massive AI infrastructure. Unfortunately the project was mishandled from the very beginning.

Now, two years later, the Pentagon‘s calling for a reboot:

Today, the Department of Defense (DoD) canceled the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud solicitation and initiated contract termination procedures. The Department has determined that, due to evolving requirements, increased cloud conversancy, and industry advances, the JEDI Cloud contract no longer meets its needs.

Evolving requirements?

Acting DOD chief information officer John Sherman is quoted in the press release as saying the Pentagon‘s scrapping the project because “evolution of the cloud ecosystem within DoD, and changes in user requirements to leverage multiple cloud environments to execute mission” have necessitated an overhaul.

But the Pentagon was clearly aware of the problem with a single-provider cloud solution from the onset of the contract.

IBM and Oracle both gave official statements citing the folly of the single-cloud provider. Oracle went on to sue the government and IBM protested JEDI at inception, giving the following statement on its own blog:

IBM knows what it takes to build a world-class cloud. No business in the world would build a cloud the way JEDI would and then lock in to it for a decade. JEDI turns its back on the preferences of Congress and the administration, is a bad use of taxpayer dollars and was written with just one company in mind. America’s warfighters deserve better.

That “one company in mind” was Amazon. But Trump had other plans.

When Microsoft then became the sole awardee of the $10B contract, it set off alarms in the tech community. Amazon filed a lawsuit alleging the Pentagon was forbidden from issuing it the contract due to Donald Trump‘s conflicts of interest.

Notably, Oracle’s lawsuit was dismissed after a government watchdog organization said the Pentagon‘s single-provider solution had been thoroughly looked into and met all the nation’s requirements.

Per the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in November of 2018:

GAO’s decision concludes that the Defense Department’s decision to pursue a single-award approach to obtain these cloud services is consistent with applicable statutes (and regulations) because the agency reasonably determined that a single-award approach is in the government’s best interests for various reasons, including national security concerns, as the statute allows.

And that makes it particularly silly for the Pentagon‘s acting IT boss to go on the record now claiming the US has only recently come to understand that a multi-provider cloud solution is necessary for Project JEDI.

Bottom line: The Pentagon’s covering its own ass. Donald Trump‘s conflicts of interests, in this particular case, have set the nation’s defensive capabilities and AI programs back by years.

Whether we like it or not, we’re in a global AI arms race. And the US is doing a great job of shooting itself in the foot so China can catch up.

There’s no telling how many millions of dollars the US has spent in court defending its ill-advised and completely inexplicable decision to restrict a $10B cloud-service project to a single-provider.

We do know that phase one of Project JEDI was schedule to be completed in April – a deadline that’s long passed.

Now, after all the delays, the Pentagon (sans Donald Trump‘s interference) will finally move forward with Project JEDI as a multi-provider cloud solution, apparently starting the bidding process all over.

And there’s only one rational explanation for all of it: Trump’s soft-shelled, crybaby egotism.

When it was announced the project would be awarded to a single-provider, most experts and pundits were certain Amazon would win the contract. This obviously didn’t sit well with former president Trump.

The former president, during the period of time in which bidding for JEDI was still open, often conflated Amazon and the Washington Post due to both companies being owned by rival billionaire Jeff Bezos.

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Tech News

Facebook welcomes Team Trump back with open arms and wallets

Facebook is doing a terrible job of banning Donald Trump from its platform.

From its failure to hold the former president accountable for the myriad misinformation campaigns conducted on his behalf by members of his campaign team from 2015 through 2018, to the most recent nonsense, it’s apparent that Facebook’s somehow vested in keeping Trump on the social network.

Up front: Facebook’s allowing “Team Trump,” a Page directly associated with numerous leadership and conservative PACs run by Donald Trump, to remain up and advertising on the site as of today, 21 June.

According to a report from FWIW:

The official Team Trump page is now owned by the former President’s political action committee, Save America. Save America is an entity directly controlled by Donald Trump, and Team Trump has not posted on Facebook since March 17th.

A quick peek at the ad information indicates the Page just purchased a little over $3K in ads for Ohio. We can also see that it’s spent more than $16 million since 2018.

Background: Facebook banned Trump from the platform indefinitely on 7 January for what the company deemed breaches of its terms of service.

Later, the company’s Oversight Board criticized the decision for its open-endedness and recommended a two year suspension instead – one that would lift in plenty of time for the 2024 election cycle.

Supposedly, Trump shouldn’t be allowed on the platform at all right now. And, per the company’s own terms of service, his associated accounts and any accounts attempting to access the platform on his behalf should be banned as well.

Quick take: This is a bunch of crap. Despite Trump’s ban, the former president can buy all the targeted ad space he wants on the world’s largest platform. The fact that Facebook sucks this badly at banning Trump makes it seem like this isn’t an accident.

The social network didn’t forget about the Trump page it’s collected over $16 million from.

When you consider how weird and creepy Trump and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s relationship is, it all adds up to something government regulators should probably take a deep dive into.



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Tech News

Trump just shat on 46M Bitcoin HODLers — Good luck in 2024

The last US presidential election featured the highest voter turnout in the nation’s history. The candidates received a combined 155.4 million votes with just over seven million separating them. That’s a margin of about 4%.

By that math it would seem like incredibly poor judgment if a candidate were to intentionally disrespect a group of people representing as much as 20% of the US adult voting population.

Enter the 45th president of the United States of America, Donald Trump.

Despite his numerous social media bans, the twice-impeached former US president’s been making the rounds on popular media over his bombastic comments as of late.

We reported on his mind-bogglingly odd confession yesterday when he admitted that he chose not to regulate Facebook and Twitter while in office because Mark Zuckerberg was nice to him.

But, bitter breakup feelings aside, Trump’s falling out with social media’s done little to tarnish his reputation among his core voters. Arguably, it’s galvanized them – who doesn’t love a good billionaire martyr story?

However, the former president’s been talking about things he clearly doesn’t understand lately. That’s not an insult, it’s an observation he made himself.

Speaking to the Fox Business Network earlier this week, the former president said:

The way you stop (cyberattacks) is you go back to a much more old-fashioned form of accounting and things.

You know, I have a son who is so good with computers. He’s a young person and he can make these things sing and when you put everything on internet and on all of these machines – you never see a piece of paper – I really think that you have to go back to a different form of accounting, a different form of compiling information.

As a young person, my 15-year-old son is, you know, he’s just a genius with this stuff. And you have people that are going to break into systems. I think you have to go back and you have to be much more reliant, there has to be much better security.

Getting rid of computers is a bold strategy for our technological future, but Trump’s not exactly deviating much from similarly Luddite comments he made back in 2016, so we’re going to assume this won’t matter either.

It was the next part, however, that either made you wince or giggle as a US voter (depending on your affiliation).

When pressed on the recent Colonial pipeline cyberattacks, the one-time president admitted he didn’t understand how the attackers got paid. And when he was informed it was through Bitcoin, he told Fox Business how he really felt:

That’s another beauty. The currency of this world should be the dollar. And I don’t think we should have all of the Bitcoins of the world out there. I think they should regulate them very, very high.

Bitcoin, it just seems like a scam. I was surprised, you know. With us it was at $6,000, much lower. I don’t like it because it’s another currency competing against the dollar. Essentially, it’s a currency competing against the dollar.

It seems like the old POTUS is making a brand out of telling people he’s not sure what’s going on. As numerous pundits have pointed out, calling Bitcoin both a scam and a currency in the same breath while claiming it competes with the US dollar is a stretch few in the fintech industry are willing to make.

Trump’s comments are thought to have been at least partly responsible for a subsequent 8% drop in BTC value. As of Monday it sat at just over $33K but has since rallied to $36.4K as of the time of this article’s publishing.

The volatility has been attributed to Trump’s larger-than-life influence on the GOP and potential 2024 presidential bid.

And the estimated 46 million US adults holding Bitcoin right now have to ask themselves what another Trump presidency would mean for cryptocurrency in the US and around the world.

How important is money to GOP voters?

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Tech News

Facebook: Trump suspension end date confirmed with tougher rules

Facebook will allow former President Donald Trump back onto the social network in two years time, finally putting a date on when the controversial suspension will be lifted. Trump was barred from using Facebook and Instagram in January 2021, after several posts deemed to incite the riots at the US Capitol Building on January 6.

Facebook opted to suspend Trump from using his accounts, as the then-President continued to perpetuate false rumors about the authenticity of the US election. Five people died during the riot, and more than 140 people were injured in the storming.

The decision by the social network was a divisive one, and was referred to Facebook’s independent Oversight Board after questions around both the validity of the suspension and the indefinite nature of the ruling. The Oversight Board pushed back last month, agreeing that barring Trump was appropriate, but insisting that Facebook must make the final decision on how long that suspension would be held for.

Today, Facebook made up its mind as promised. “Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols,” Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs at Facebook, said in a statement. “We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year.”

It will mean that Trump can theoretically return to his suspended accounts on Facebook and Instagram in 2023. The penalty is the greatest of Facebook’s new policies for “public figures during times of civil unrest and ongoing violence,” which range from a month through to two years. However, assuming Trump does indeed return to the social networks, he’ll be under a probation of sorts.

“Violations after initial restrictions are subject to heightened penalties,” Facebook says, “up to and including permanent removal.”

Indeed, at the end of the two year suspension, Facebook “will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded,” Clegg says. “We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.”

Assuming the risk is considered low enough, Trump will face “a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions.”

As Clegg points out – perhaps preempting complaints by some – this will not prevent Trump from speaking publicly. It’s likely there’ll be some confusion around just what the First Amendment actually covers, and what Facebook’s responsibility toward protecting free speech actually is as a private company.

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Tech News

Judge says Amazon suit alleging Trump interfered in Project JEDI can go ahead

An Amazon lawsuit alleging former President Donald Trump interfered in the selection process for the Department of Defense’s JEDI project can go forward, a federal judge ruled today.

The ruling stems from a 2019 lawsuit where Amazon insisted Trump purposefully snubbed the company in favor of Microsoft for the JEDI account – a $10B program to build AI solutions for the Pentagon. The reasoning for this, according to Amazon, has to do with its CEO’s ownership of the Washington Post, a newspaper Trump referred to as the “enemy of the people” numerous times during his one-time stint as US president.

[Read: Amazon prepares to strike back after Microsoft wins $10B JEDI contract]

Aside from personal beef between the richest person on the planet and the impeached US president, Amazon also asserts its product is far superior to Microsoft’s and claims it’s clearly better-suited to meet the taxpayers’ needs.

The Department of Justice and Microsoft filed a joint injunction request in an attempt to have Amazon’s case dismissed. It’s unclear at this time as to why the Judge refused the pair’s request.

An Amazon spokesperson told Neural:

The record of improper influence by former President Trump is disturbing, and we are pleased the Court will review the remarkable impact it had on the JEDI contract award.

AWS continues to be the superior technical choice, the less expensive choice, and would provide the best value to the DoD and the American taxpayer. We continue to look forward to the Court’s review of the many material flaws in the DoD’s evaluation, and we remain absolutely committed to ensuring that the Department has access to the best technology at the best price.

Quick take: This whole saga is an ugly patch for both the US government and big tech. There’s no unified scientific ethics body for artificial intelligence research and the US government has yet to describe its own policies regarding AI beyond blanket statements.

This means we’ve spent nearly three years watching the richest companies in the world (Google, Microsoft, and Amazon were all in the running) fight over which of them gets to militarize artificial intelligence for the purpose of winning wars with absolutely no legal framework to dictate what that means.  

Not only is taxpayer money being wasted to represent the government and Microsoft in court because the DoD’s selection process was flawed from the beginning, but the continuing presence of Donald Trump’s myriad conflicts of interest and utter lack of principles and ethics means that, by the time this is all said and done, we’ll have spent millions of dollars and years in court before the first algorithm gets installed.

To use a common military acronym: the whole thing is FUBAR.



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Computing

Trump tariffs on Chinese goods could cost you $120 more for notebook PCs, say Dell, HP and CTA

Dell, HP, Intel, and Microsoft warned that Trump Administration tariffs levied on Chinese imports would raise laptop prices by as much as 19 percent or $120, no matter which manufacturer made them. 

In a public comment attached to the proposed action filed Wednesday, the four companies cited a Consumer Technology Association report issued this week that said the tariffs would add about $120 to the average price of a laptop, beginning in the popular back-to-school and holiday seasons. Laptops purchased from Chinese manufacturers like Lenovo would cost 21 percent more, the CTA found. 

Apple wrote its own letter protesting the tariffs, too. 

“A price increase of that magnitude may even put laptop devices entirely out of reach for our most cost-conscious consumers,” the four companies said in the joint statement. “At best, these consumers would continue using older models that do not enable the latest security features. At worst, a price increase would force some consumers to go without laptops altogether.”

The Trump tariffs would not be paid by China or the Chinese manufacturers themselves. Instead, if U.S. consumers wanted to buy a laptop that used Chinese components—any laptop, in other words—the price of the finished product would be higher, with the resulting costs passed along to consumers.

The tariffs would likely cause consumers and small businesses to hold onto their existing laptops for even longer, impeding sales from U.S. PC makers like Dell and HP. In particular, those companies derive most of their sales from the U.S. market—30 and 32 percent from Dell and HP, respectively. Apple, which didn’t sign the letter, receives 40 percent of its revenue from U.S. customers.

Acer and Lenovo receive just 20 and 15 percent of their sales, respectively, from the U.S., the companies wrote, meaning that they would face less negative impace than their U.S. competitors.

Microsoft, Intel, and the two PC companies wrote that transitioning to alternative sources of supply weren’t possible to avoid the tariffs. In particular, the three hardware companies use equipment that is made in China, they said.

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Tech News

Trump reportedly approves TikTok sale to Oracle, Walmart

President Trump has signed off on a deal that will put TikTok’s U.S. operations under control of Oracle, Walmart, and other U.S. investors, apparently in exchange for a $5 billion fund that Oracle and Walmart would set up to fund the education of young Americans.

The Wall Street Journal reported that both Walmart and Oracle would share approximately a 20 percent stake in the new company, which would be headquartered in the United States. In total, U.S. investors would own 53 percent, Chinese investors would own a 36 percent stake, with European investors taking up about 11 percent, the paper said.

Trump had ordered TikTok, the popular short-form consumer video site, shut down within the United States allegedly because U.S. officials were concerned that the site was sharing data captured by the TikTok app with the U.S. government. Microsoft had expressed interest in buying the company, but later said that it would not be acquiring TikTok. Instead, Oracle said it would be a technology provider. Walmart’s participation had not been reported until then.

Trump had originally asked for a sort of finder’s fee for facilitating the deal—which, of course, came about because he ordered TikTok’s U.S. operations shut down. According to the Journal, he may have received it: Oracle and Walmart will spend $5 billion to fund education for young Americans. It’s not clear whether the fund will be used for “patriotic education,” a demand Trump had made on Thursday to counter “decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools,” according to The New York Times

The U.S. Commerce Department also ordered that WeChat be banned from U.S. apps stores on Sunday night, along with the TikTok app, owned by China’s ByteDance. If the deal is approved, it’s not known when a replacement TikTok app would be published by its new U.S. owners.

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Security

Judge again blocks Trump administration push to ban WeChat in the US

A judge in California has rejected a request from the Department of Justice to reverse a previous decision allowing WeChat to remain active in US app stores. US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said new evidence the government presented did not change her opinion about the messaging app, owned by Chinese company Tencent app. WeChat will remain active in US app stores for the time being.

“The record does not support the conclusion that the government has ‘narrowly tailored’ the prohibited transactions to protect its national-security interests,” Beeler wrote in her decision. The evidence “supports the conclusion that the restrictions ‘burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.’” President Trump issued an executive order in August to ban WeChat, invoking the Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act.

The administration also sought to ban video sharing app TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, on the same grounds, and President Trump demanded the company be sold. But rather than a sale, a tentative agreement made Oracle TikTok’s trusted technology partner in the US, and created a new entity called TikTok Global. The deal has not yet been finalized. On September 27th, US District Judge Carl Nichols granted a preliminary injunction against a ban on new downloads of TikTok in the US hours before it would have taken effect.

Tencent can collect a “digital facsimile of a person’s life” on WeChat, Justice Department attorney Serena Orloff said at a hearing earlier this month, furthering the administration’s position that Tencent is connected to the Chinese Communist Party.

Beeler’s earlier order blocked the Commerce Department ban of US transactions on WeChat. And while the government claimed it has identified “significant” threats to national security, Beeler did not appear persuaded. She said in her September 20th order that a group of WeChat users calling themselves the WeChat Alliance had demonstrated there were “serious questions” about whether the ban would potentially violate their First Amendment rights.

The group, which is not officially connected to WeChat, said there is no alternative app that can do everything WeChat does, and argued it is the primary way for Chinese speakers in the US to connect with family in China as well as receive information locally. WeChat has some 19 million US users and 1 billion users globally.

The Justice Department has appealed Beeler’s decision to the Ninth Circuit, but a decision is not expected before December.

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AI

Trump pardons former Google self-driving car engineer Anthony Levandowski

(Reuters) — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had given a full pardon to a former Google engineer sentenced for stealing a trade secret on self-driving cars months before he briefly headed Uber’s rival unit.

Anthony Levandowski, 40, was sentenced in August to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty in March. He was not in custody, but a judge had said he could enter custody once the COVID-19 pandemic subsided.

The White House said Levandowski had “paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good.”

Alphabet’s Waymo, a self-driving auto technology unit spun out of Google, declined to comment. The company previously described Levandowski’s crime as “a betrayal” and his sentence “a win for trade secret laws.”

The pardon was backed by several leaders in the technology industry who have supported Trump, including investors Peter Thiel and Blake Masters and entrepreneur Palmer Luckey, according to the White House.

Levandowski transferred more than 14,000 Google files, including development schedules and product designs, to his personal laptop before he left, all while negotiating a new role with Uber.

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