Microsoft’s Warning About a Powerful Technology—Data Sheet for 12/6

Last summer the president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, published a nearly 4,000-word manifesto on a seemingly narrow topic, the need for the U.S. government to regulate facial recognition technology. He might instead have suggested a review of all artificial intelligence applications. Or he might have zeroed in on other A.I.-related fields, like autonomous vehicles.

Instead, in the extraordinary document, Smith argues that facial recognition is too powerful, too useful, and too potentially scary to leave to technology companies to self-regulate. It’s a cogent piece and also educational. It explains that while the rudimentary tools of facial recognition have been around for a while, the powerful rise of A.I. and the cloud, in which Microsoft is one of the leading technology suppliers, have made its regulation a pressing concern.

Smith stakes an avowedly moral position for regulation. “It may seem unusual for a company to ask for government regulation of its products, but there are many markets where thoughtful regulation contributes to a healthier dynamic for consumers and producers alike,” he writes. He notes that auto manufacturers resisted regulation for years, only to see that rules around seat belts, air bags and fuel efficiency save lives and improve the environment.

The Microsoft president, a lawyer who is also the company’s chief legal officer, frames much of his essay in the form of questions, as in, “How should we be thinking about this unique problem?” He appears to be ready to answer some of his queries. He’ll give an address Thursday afternoon at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., livestreamed here, on the topic.

I’ll be curious to know how Microsoft views its regulatory advocacy as a competitive weapon against companies with less of a regulatory history than Microsoft. It’s also worth noting Smith is focused squarely on regulation in the United States and the behavior and responsibilities of the U.S. government. The word China, a place where many of Smith’s darkest fears about facial recognition already are being realized, does not appear in his July manifesto.


"Mistreated and ignored." This is the phrase used to describe Google's army of contract workers in a letter sent to senior management by contractors and full-time staff. The letter calls on Google to expand recent HR reforms to contract workers, who now make up more than half of the company's staff, and to end practices that make them feel excluded.

"Yup go for it!" Is what CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in 2013 to approve a plan by Facebook to hobble Vine, a potential competitor, by cutting off access to key data. This is just one tidbit from a trove of internal emails that confirm popular perception of Facebook as a ruthless, grow-at-all-costs corporate cut-throat.

“We’re out in the woods.” Is why residents lack fast Internet access, said the mayor of a small town in Washington state. The problem is a national one, according to a new survey by Microsoft, which says 168 million people don't use the web at broadband speeds. The FCC's own figure of 25 million is far more sunny—reportedly because the agency relies on simplistic surveys supplied by ISPs.

“This is a really big deal." So said a former Canadian diplomat of the decision to arrest the daughter of Huawei's founder in Vancouver. Meng Wanzhou, a senior Huawei exec, is "Chinese corporate royalty" according to the diplomat. The arrest, which came at behest of the U.S., is related to the alleged violation of Iran sanctions, and will likely increase hostility in China vis-à-vis Canada and the U.S. Meanwhile, the news led markets to tumble on Thursday morning.


U.S. law enforcement agencies are rapidly adopting a new lie detector technology that relies on eye movements to detect falsehoods. But as Wired reports, the new tool may be even less reliable than conventional polygraphs:

Converus claims that EyeDetect is “the most accurate lie detector available,” boasting 86% accuracy. By comparison, many academics consider polygraph tests to be 65 to 75% accurate. The company already claims close to 500 customers in 40 countries, largely using the EyeDetect for job screening. In the US, this includes the federal government as well as 21 state and local law enforcement agencies, according to Converus [...]

Even so, some in-house experiments reveal potential flaws with the device. In a study from 2013, the National Security Agency used an early version of EyeDetect to identify NSA employees who had taken a cellphone into a secure area, a minor security violation. The test accurately identified just 50% of those guilty of the mistake (the same as you would expect from chance) and just over 80% of those innocent.


FCC Chair Ajit Pai Admits Millions of Russian and Fake Comments Distorted Net Neutrality Repeal By Glenn Fleishman

Australia Just Passed a Draconian Anti-Encryption Bill That Will Create a Headache for Big Tech By David Meyer

Apple Receives FCC Approval for a 'Sleep Tracking' Device By Emily Price

Some Artificial Intelligence Should Be Regulated, Research Group Says By Jonathan Vanian

Most New Yorkers Approve of Amazon Opening a Headquarters in Queens By Emily Gillespie


Dang you, Interwebs! Rudy Giuliani embraced his boss's penchant for conspiracy theories with a ludicrous rant accusing Twitter of inserting anti-Trump propaganda into his tweets. The comments, coming from the President's one-time cybersecurity adviser, belied a lack of understanding of web technology.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Jeff John Roberts. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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