April 20, 2020

Doug Brake: Digital Policy for Physical Distancing

Bio   Doug Brake ()  directs the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s work on broadband and spectrum policy. He writes extensively and speaks frequently to lawmakers, the news media, and other influential audiences on topics...

Doug Brake



Doug Brake (@dbrakeitif)  directs the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s work on broadband and spectrum policy. He writes extensively and speaks frequently to lawmakers, the news media, and other influential audiences on topics such as next-generation wireless, rural broadband infrastructure, and network neutrality.

Brake is a recognized broadband policy expert, having testified numerous times before Congress, state legislatures, and regulatory commissions, as well as serving on the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Group. His written commentary has appeared in publications such as Democracy JournalRipon ForumMorning ConsultRoll Call, The Hill, and RealClearPolicy, and he has provided analysis on air for broadcast outlets such as Bloomberg, NPR, CNBC, and Al Jazeera.

He previously worked as a research assistant at the Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of Colorado, and he interned as a Hatfield scholar at the FCC, assisting with the implementation of the advanced communications services section of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

Brake holds a law degree from the University of Colorado Law School and a bachelor’s degree in English literature and philosophy from Macalester College.


Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)

Robert D. Atkinson et al., Digital Policy for Physical Distancing: 28 Stimulus Proposals That Will Pay Long-Term Dividends Digital Policy for Physical Distancing: 28 Stimulus Proposals That Will Pay Long-Term Dividends (2020) (last visited Apr 21, 2020).

News Roundup      

Event memorializing Holocaust Zoom-bombed with Hitler images

Israeli Embassy in Germany

The Israeli Embassy in Germany decided to hold its Holocaust memorial online this year, only to have it Zoom-bombed with images of Adolf Hitler. This is just one of several incidents involving Zoom calls, with a meeting held by African American students at UT Austin Zoom-bombed a few weeks ago with similar racist comments and imagery. Despite the well-publicized breaches, though, Zoom usage is way up, with the company’s CEO Eric Yuan reporting 300 million new users, or 50% higher, as the company’s share price rose some 12% this week.

Human Rights groups try to protect kids online amidst EdTech commercialization efforts

School districts across the nation have rolled out their distance learning programs with varying degrees of success. Fairfax County, Virginia Public Schools’ rollout was an embarrassing flop, for example, with students getting Zoom-bombed and users faced with persistent log in and access problems. But with the responsibility for education delegated to each state, how can students’ privacy and personal data be protected with so little uniformity? Who will manage the RFP process for school technology providers seeking to work with school districts? What are the standards that will be used to evaluate them?

There aren’t any.

So, as John Eggerton writes in Multichannel News, human rights groups are pushing for better oversight.  

TikTok has added additional parental controls, like disabling DMs for teens under age 16. But that doesn’t solve the problem of the China-based company potentially recording, predicting, and attempting to modify user behavior by conducting behavior and sentiment analysis over a lifetime, based on the profiles and videos their users have visited and how they have expressed themselves online since childhood, the effects of which we’ve yet to see.

Nintendo confirmed 160,00 hacks last week, disabling users’ ability to log in, as the public shrugged off the hacks as a necessary tradeoff to enjoy our connected world. Fairfax County Police conducted a sting operation, arresting 30 adults who used the opportunity of the coronavirus lockdown to solicit underaged children for sex. While this effort is certainly a deterrent, many more perps, especially those who are technically literate, engage in the same behavior while evading detection, simply because lawmakers seem unable or unwilling to pass comprehensive privacy legislation to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of children’s data, much less their exploitation by criminals.

Prisons are surveilling prisoners for discussions about coronavirus

The Intercept reports that prisons are surveilling inmates’ phone calls for discussions about coronavirus. How doing so will help limit the spread of the deadly disease isn’t clear. But the technology was developed by a company called Verus, which was funded by Republican donor Elliott Brody according to the report.

Cathy O’Neil: COVID-19 response threatens to automate ageism

In an opinion piece for Bloomberg, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ author Cathy O’Neil writes that biased data is causing healthcare providers to allocate resources away from the elderly, as they choose where to assign limited resources. She fears that nations will automate ageism in a way that preserves healthcare gaps between the young and elderly. O’Neil argues that not only is much of the data biased, but it is also incomplete, showing little to no justification at all for assigning lower priority to older patients based on their age.

FCC denies extension of net neutrality comment period

Not even during a pandemic is the current FCC able to show the slightest bit of graciousness for two cities among the hardest hit. Saying they had more than enough time to prepare comments, the FCC denied the Cities of Los Angeles and New York’s request to extend the comment deadline pertaining to those parts of the agency’s net neutrality repeal the DC Circuit sent back for it to reconsider.

Newly unemployed find below-minimum-wage remote work on Amazon

Newly unemployed workers are finding work on Amazon. The only problem is that it’s not the work in warehouses or delivering packages that most people think of. For many years, so-called “reviewers” have used Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” platform to perform tasks that pay a median wage of around 2.00 per hour, according to research from Carnegie Mellon University. Tasks include things like labeling pictures, text, or other items for large companies like Microsoft, according to Wired. So definitely some labor issues to think about there.

Leaked Amazon pics show new efforts to track license plates

Finally, Amazon has faced significant criticism of late regarding the surveillance components of its Ring camera and facial recognition program. But despite calls for reform, and in the absence of regulatory constraints, the company has continued developing this technology. Ars Technica reported last week that the company may now be tracking license plates. Several reports from the Washington Post and other sources have covered police departments’ widespread use of surveillance technology developed by Amazon, Google, Palantir and others. But as one can see, we’re essentially in a Wild West-type of era, similar to the early days of the internet, in which the supposed societal benefits, in this case public safety, are seen by tech moguls to outweigh our Constitutional rights.