The Volokh Conspiracy

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LinkedIn, Slinkedout: Microsoft and China

Episode 379 of the Cyberlaw Podcast


Fresh from his launch of the Alperovitch Institute for Cybersecurity Studies, Dmitri Alperovitch kicks off this episode with a hopeful take on the 31-nation US-sponsored videoconference devoted to combatting ransomware. He and Nate Jones both think a coordinated international effort could pay off. I challenge Dmitri to identify one new initiative that this group could enforce, and he rises to the occasion.

Dmitri also previews one of the proposals for regulating Silicon Valley that might yet make it through Congress – a ban on "self-preferencing" by platforms that sell both their own and other people's products. It's all eerily similar to China's even more aggressive use of antitrust remedies against companies like meal delivery giant Meituan.

Tatyana Bolton, meanwhile, identifies a second front in the attack on Big Tech – regulation of algorithms. This leads us into a discussion of freedom of speech versus "freedom of reach" and a WSJ story on the weaknesses of Facebook's AI system for downrating (but only occasionally deleting) "hate speech." I argue that social media will ultimately rely even more heavily on AI-administered restrictions on user reach, if only as a way to make sure the victims of Silicon Valley censorship never realize how much their voices are being squelched.

Microsoft has given up its ambitions for LinkedIn's China operations, Dmitri notes, dropping the social media elements of the service and moving it closer to straight job listings. I argue that the retreat was overdetermined by the Chinese government's extraction of both financial and political concessions from Microsoft.

But if China is slowly poisoning its high-tech sector, why does a former Pentagon official think the U.S. has lost the AI race to China? Nate and I are cautiously skeptical of that view, not least because of the official's, uh, provenance.

In more news about Chinese regulation, it turns out that the Chinese ban on crypto-mining didn't quite reach the crypto miners using state resources.

Tatyana and I dig into WhatsApp's somewhat limited adoption of encrypted backups, and the policy's likely impact on law enforcement and criminals. Later, I also nod to the critique of "client-side scanning" (i.e., Apple's child porn solution) offered by All the Usual Cryptographers.

In comic relief, the governor of Missouri embarrasses himself by threatening criminal prosecution after a state website's security flaws are exposed by a reporter who seems to have done all the right things from a responsible disclosure point of view.

In other quick hits,

  • I report on Facebook's appeal of the magistrate opinion unexpectedly gutting the Stored Communications Act for everyone who's ever been deplatformed by social media.  It's a workmanlike effort, but not as persuasive as fans of the SCA might have hoped. This could turn out to be real trouble for the SCA.
  • Dmitri breaks down the federal government's plan to issue SD cards to all its employees for network access. It's a good idea, he thinks, but saying it will end phishing of employees is more fond hope than reasonable expectation.

Download the 379th Episode (mp3)

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