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Tech Talk Show Notes

March 20, 2021


U.S. Unprepared for AI Competition with China, Commission Finds

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence is out with its comprehensive final report recommending a path forward for ensuring U.S. superiority in AI that calls for the Defense Department and the intelligence community to become “AI-ready” by 2025. 

NSCAI on Monday during a public meeting voted to approve its final report, which will also be sent to Congress. The report culminates two years of work that began after the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act established the commission to review advances in AI, machine learning and associated technologies. 

“The bottom line … is we don’t feel this is the time for incremental toggles to federal research budgets or adding a few new positions in the Pentagon for Silicon Valley technologists,” Commission Vice Chair Robert Work, former deputy secretary of defense, said during the meeting. “Those just won’t cut it. This will be expensive and requires significant change in mindset at the national, and agency, and Cabinet levels. America needs White House leadership, Cabinet member action, and bipartisan congressional support to win the AI competition and the broader technology competition.”


Brave Launching Privacy-Focused Brave Search

Brave, the privacy-focused web browser made by JavaScript creator Brendan Eich, is throwing its hat in the search engine ring.

Brave has made a name for itself as one of the best web browsers for an out-of-the-box privacy focus, aggressively blocking trackers and ads. The browser uses Chromium as its rendering engine, ensuring its high  performance and compatibility. Brave also includes its own cryptocurrency, which can be used as a way of rewarding content makers, in an effort to reinvent how paid web content works.

The company’s latest effort is its most ambitious yet, with plans to take on Google with a more privacy-focused alternative — Brave Search.

Billed as “search without a trace,” Brave Search will respect privacy, not harvesting user data, tracking or profiling users, or being beholden to advertisers. The search engine will offer both ad-free paid search and ad-supported free search options.


Hackers are finding ways to hide inside Apple’s walled garden

You’ve heard of Apple’s famous walled garden, the tightly controlled tech ecosystem that gives the company unique control of features and security. All apps go through a strict Apple approval process, they are confined so sensitive information isn’t gathered on the phone, and developers are locked out of places they’d be able to get into in other systems. The barriers are so high now that it’s probably more accurate to think of it as a castle wall. 

Virtually every expert agrees that the locked-down nature of iOS has solved some fundamental security problems, and that with these restrictions in place, the iPhone succeeds spectacularly in keeping almost all the usual bad guys out. But when the most advanced hackers do succeed in breaking in, something strange happens: Apple’s extraordinary defenses end up protecting the attackers themselves.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Bill Marczak, a senior researcher at the cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab. “You’re going to keep out a lot of the riffraff by making it harder to break iPhones. But the 1% of top hackers are going to find a way in and, once they’re inside, the impenetrable fortress of the iPhone protects them.”


Apple changes ‘subscribe’ to ‘follow’ on Podcasts because people think subscribing means paying

Apple will soon no longer let users “subscribe” to podcasts. Instead, podcast fans will “follow” their favorite shows.

This change to Apple Podcasts will roll out with the release of iOS 14.5. However, the next iOS update beta, where users can currently see the change, is currently available.

The switch from “subscribe” to “follow” in Apple Podcasts was first noticed by PodNews, an outlet that reports on the podcasting industry. 

It may seem like semantics, but it’s actually a pretty important update. Edison Research, a market analysis firm, found that 47 percent of people who don’t listen to podcasts thought it cost money to “subscribe” to podcasts. In a recent newsletter, senior vice president of Edison Research Tom Webster stressed that the reason for this is because of the word “subscribe.” 

That’s a huge problem if nearly half of the people surveyed associate “subscribe” with paid subscriptions. How many people would have been listening to podcasts over the years if they knew it was free to do so?


Russian government websites go dark after U.S. vowed retaliation for SolarWinds hack

Two days after the White House telegraphed a retaliatory stealth attack on Russian cyber systems, Russian government websites for the Kremlin and other agencies were knocked offline.

“It was reported earlier on Wednesday that the websites of certain governmental agencies were not accessible,” the state news agency Tass announced. “Users also reported a failure in operation of Rostelecom, the largest Russian communications provider.”

In addition to the Kremlin site, the disabled web pages included those for the State Duma, the Security Council, the Russian Investigative Committee, the Ministry of the Interior, and other agencies, Tass reported.


Exchange servers first compromised by Chinese hackers hit with ransomware

Organizations using Microsoft Exchange now have a new security headache: never-before-seen ransomware that’s being installed on servers that were already infected by state-sponsored hackers in China.

Microsoft reported the new family of ransomware deployment late Thursday, saying that it was being deployed after the initial compromise of servers. Microsoft’s name for the new family is Ransom:Win32/DoejoCrypt.A. The more common name is DearCry.


Google must face $5B lawsuit over tracking private internet use, judge rules

Google failed to win dismissal of a lawsuit alleging it collects users’ data on internet activity even when they browse in a browser’s private incognito mode. The lawsuit, filed in June, alleges Google violates wiretapping and privacy laws by continuing to “intercept, track, and collect communications” even when people use Chrome’s incognito mode and other private web browser modes.

A federal judge on Friday denied the tech giant’s request for dismissal of the lawsuit, which seeks class action status.

“The court concludes that Google did not notify users that Google engages in the alleged data collection while the user is in private browsing mode,” US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, wrote in her ruling.

The ruling comes amid continuing scrutiny of tech giants such as Google and Facebook how much data companies have gathered from consumers. Google said last year it would phase out third-party cookies that track a person’s individual browsing across websites and target ads to them based on their activity.


Want to borrow that e-book from the library? Sorry, Amazon won’t let you.

What gives? In 2020, Kaling switched to a new publisher: Amazon. Turns out, the tech giant has also become a publishing powerhouse — and it won’t sell downloadable versions of its more than 10,000 e-books or tens of thousands of audiobooks to libraries. That’s right, for a decade, the company that killed bookstores has been starving the reading institution that cares for kids, the needy and the curious. And that’s turned into a mission-critical problem during a pandemic that cut off physical access to libraries and left a lot of people unable to afford books on their own.

Many Americans now recognize that a few tech companies increasingly dominate our lives. But it’s sometimes hard to put your finger on exactly why that’s a problem. The case of the vanishing e-books shows how tech monopolies hurt us not just as consumers, but as citizens.