The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Among the good things about coming back from Christmas break are all the deep analyses that news outlets save up to publish over the holidays – especially those they can report from countries where celebrating Christmas isn't that big a deal. At least that's how I account for the recent flood of deep media dives on China technology issues. Megan Stifel takes us through a few. The first is a Washington Post article on China taking the tools it uses for measuring online dissent and focusing them on the rest of the world. The second is a New York Times article that tells us how the Chinese government takes the next step—using its tools for suppressing internal dissent on the rest of the world when it says things China doesn't like. Utterly unsurprising, to me at least, is how social media companies like Twitter have turned out to be hapless enablers of China's speech police. Later in the podcast, Megan covers another story in the same vein – the growing global unease about China's success in building Logink, a global logistics and shipping database.
Scott Shapiro and Nick Weaver walk us through the conviction of a Harvard professor for lying about his China ties. It may be too cynical to say that the Justice Department wanted Professor Charles Lieber especially badly because he's not Asian, but there's no doubt he'll be Exhibit A when it defends the China Initiative against claims of ethnic profiling.
Megan takes us through another great story of hack-enabled insider trading, helicopters to Zermatt, and dueling extraditions; as the piece de resistance, NYT hints we may learn more about Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.
Scott explains how Apple AirTags are being used to track people. Nick gives us a feel for just how hard it is to separate good from bad in designing Air Tags. I suggest that this is a problem we could leave to the plaintiffs' lawyers.
Nick lays out the economics of hacking as a service and introduces us to yet another company in that business – Cytrox. No one seems to last long in the business without changing their name. Nick and I explore the reasons for that, and the possibility that soon the teams that work for these companies will also move on every year or two.
Nick explains why bitcoin isn't always a cybercriminal's best friend. It turns out that cryptography isn't proof against rubber hose cryptanalysis, or maybe even plea bargaining.
Drawing from my research for an article about why bias in face recognition has been overblown, I note that Canada, France, and the entire Western world is imposing sanctions on Clearview AI for privacy violations, but Clearview AI is the only U.S. company doing as good or better at face recognition than Chinese and Russian suppliers. I argue that's because a dubious racial bias narrative has forced IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, and Meta to retreat from the market, leaving us at the mercy of Russian and Chinese tech.
Megan explains why financial regulators and not the FBI turn out to be the biggest and most effective government enemies of end-to-end encryption; they've fined JPMorgan Chase a cool $200 million for using WhatsApp and other unbreakable encrypted messaging systems. Say, wasn't there a chip thirty years ago that would have solved that problem—Chipper? Clipper?
Finally, in quick hits,
- I point out that soft power isn't always America's friend, as shown by Intel's apology to the Chinese public for obeying U.S. law, Apple's determination to double down on deepening its dependence on a Chinese supply chain, and a SenseTime IPO that was enormously successful for everyone except U.S. sanctions and U.S. investors.
- Scott shows the remarkable erosion of Silicon Valley's power in conflicts with Putin's Russia. Google and Meta are facing huge fines for not taking down content Russia doesn't like. And they're losing lawsuits to Russians whose content they have taken down. In fact, they're losing so big that I expect Breitbart to bring its next Big Tech censorship lawsuit in Moscow.
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