Location, location, location—and the virus

Episode 308 of the Cyberlaw Podcast


David Kris, Paul Rosenzweig, and I dive deep on the big tech issue of the COVID-19 contagion: Whether (but mostly how) to use mobile phone location services to fight the virus. We cover the Israeli approach, as well as a host of solutions adopted in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and elsewhere. I'm a big fan of Singapore, which produced in a week an app that Nick Weaver thought would take a year.

In our interview, evelyn douek, currently at the Berkman Klein Center and an SJD candidate at Harvard, takes us deep into content moderation. Displaying a talent for complexifying an issue we all want to simplify, she explains why we can't live with social platform censorship and why we can't live without it. She walks us through the growth of content moderation, from spam, through child porn, and on to terrorism and "coordinated inauthentic behavior" – the identification of which, evelyn assures me, does not require an existentialist dance instructor. Instead, it's the latest and least easily defined category of speech to be suppressed by Big Tech. It's a mare's nest, but I, for one, intend to aggravate our new Tech Overlords for as long as possible.

Returning to the News Roundup, Nate Jones and evelyn mull the head-spinning change the virus has made in the public reputation of Big Tech, but Nate wonders if Silicon Valley's PR glow will last.

Meanwhile, China is celebrating its self-proclaimed victory over COVID-19 by borrowing Russian tactics to spread coronavirus disinformation. I argue that any country adopting Russia's patented "Who knows what's true?" tactics probably has something to hide. Because the Russians usually do.

We take advantage of evelyn's Aussie ties to get a translation (and an apology) for Australia's latest venture into the business of blocking graphic violent content.

David and Paul review the White House's National Strategy for 5G Security. They talk for two minutes, but they say more than the strategy does.

The House of Representative has irresponsibly bolted for home without even a temporary reauthorization of expiring FISA authorities. Paul and David explain why that isn't quite the disaster it sounds like. Quite.

The NYT finds more AI bogus bias, and I invent a new term for the practice of pretending AI is a man and then attributing racism to him. We'll see if misanthropomorphism catches on once I learn to say it without stumbling.

David says the Justice Department has brought the first fraud case stemming from the coronavirus crisis, and I suggest that case itself has a whiff of false advertising about it.

Amazon is complaining that the Pentagon is trying to fix some of the contract award problems in the big DOD cloud procurement. Paul is more sympathetic than I am.

And Paul questions the wisdom of failing to delay CCPA enforcement while the coronavirus rages across California.

Download the 308th Episode (mp3).

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  1. Relatedly, there was a piece in the Guardian yesterday about the Saudis using their domestic telecoms to ping their nationals abroad, apparently gaining cell site (tower) information. (“Accurate to several hundred meters.”) It’s an old messaging protocol that appears to be wide open. Saudi companies were pinging 2 million per month, apparently.

    Mr. D.

    1. You’re referring to SS7, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_System_No._7 .

      And yes, if you are positioned to talk SS7 to the carriers (as, say, nation states are), you are already “trusted” to do a number of creepy things to arbitrary cell phones. The Wikipedia page isn’t bad; scroll down to the vulnerabilities section for more info.

      1. Interesting — tone phreaking enters new era. If I understand it, it’s a tone system that is both associated with voice calls (carrying much metadata at the point when the user ‘voluntarily conveys’ the number to the carrier) and also running constantly underneath with the power to carry the same metadata. And if the vulnerabilities described are being actively exploited, there’s perhaps nothing keeping a black hat (perhaps nation state or foreign carrier) from running the search and then laundering the data through a marketing company, to law enforcement (either our good guys or other countries’ bad guys) bypassing the telecoms laws (eg, ECPA?). Quick take, likely a total misunderstanding, not advice, don’t rely, etc. Thanks for the link.

        Mr. D.

  2. Wheew! I had to look up “SJD candidate” to see that doctorates are NOT being awarded in Social Justice, but in Juridical Science. Of course, that may not be too different.

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