Can a Beatles song thwart police accountability?

February 10, 2021, 2:28 PM UTC

Surrounded by machine learning-fueled facial recognition systems, autonomous security drones, and a network of biometric collecting sensors, the protagonist of your average cyberpunk novel knows how to take steps to avoid being seen. In William Gibson’s 2010 novel Zero History, the plot revolves in part around a pattern on clothing that thwarts surveillance camera recording. It’s since become a real thing, as often happens with Gibson’s technological musings.

But hacking surveillance in our present day can take many forms, some decidedly low-tech.

Video platforms like YouTube and Instagram all have a common feature: automated systems that limit uploads of popular music. In the name of copyright protection, a video featuring a hit song may be blocked, muted, or demonetized.

Those systems derive from the music industry’s earlier efforts to ensure artists and record labels got paid whenever a song appeared in a TV show, movie, or, most recently, podcast. There’s a hilarious episode of 30 Rock where Tracy Jordan sings to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” in an effort to avoid being included in a reality TV show.

And in some dystopian mashup of 30 Rock and William Gibson, Vice News has a report on some officers of the Beverly Hills police department. Annoyed that a local activist was filming them and posting the videos to Instagram, the officers developed a strategy to thwart the uploads: They loudly played pop songs off their phones whenever an activist showed up. Copyrighted songs like Sublime’s “Santeria” and “In My Life” by The Beatles. (The department says the action “is not a procedure that has been recommended” and that it is reviewing the situation.)

It’s a worthy reminder that as much as the use of technology influences society, society’s rules also influence how technology can be used. For good and ill.

Aaron Pressman


Pick a little, talk a little. At Twitter, the departure of President Trump's account did not appear to harm user growth or interaction. Revenue rose 28% to $1.3 billion and the mouthful known as "monetizable daily active usage" grew 27% to 192 million people. “We are a platform that is obviously much larger than any one topic or any one account,” CEO Jack Dorsey said. Shares of Twitter, up 62% over the past year, rose another 8% in premarket trading. Elsewhere on Wall Street, Cisco System's revenue was about unchanged at $12 billion. Its shares, up just 1% over the past year, fell 5% in premarket trading.

Home court. In other post-Trump fallout, the Biden administration is delaying indefinitely the forced sale of TikTok to Oracle, the Wall Street Journal reports. The new administration is weighing a more comprehensive approach to Chinese technology companies, an idea I was hawking after the election. The battle with other Chinese tech companies continues. Huawei filed a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging its designation by the Federal Communications Commission as a threat to U.S. national security.

They who dwell in golden ease. The world's second-richest person, Jeff Bezos, was the world's biggest philanthropist in 2020, according to the annual rankings from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. His ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, ranked second. Among other tech figures on the list, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey was fifth, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and wife Patty Quillin were 14th, and Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia was 47th.

Flashed the way overhead. The crowded skies are getting more crowded. Marking the fourth major Internet-from-space startup, Telesat on Tuesday unveiled details of its planned service dubbed Lightspeed. The Canadian company wants to loft almost 300 satellites in low Earth orbit to provide connectivity around the globe. Its rivals with somewhat similar plans are Elon Musk's Starlink, just-out-of-bankruptcy OneWeb, and Jeff Bezos's early stages effort Project Kuiper. Starlink, which already has 1,000 satellites in orbit, said Tuesday it was taking preorders from the general public in North America and the United Kingdom.

Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen. San Francisco-based Salesforce said on Tuesday that most employees could work from home at least two days a week from now on. "An immersive workspace is no longer limited to a desk in our Towers; the 9-to-5 workday is dead; and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks," chief people officer Brent Hyder wrote in a blog post.

Redmond, start your photocopiers. Speaking of how we work, Microsoft continues to try and improve the workflow. It debuted two new products for its Teams app on Tuesday. Bulletins is for posting announcements and Milestones tracks the progress of projects a la Trello or Airtable. Apple is also kind of copying the competition. Its Maps app is adding crowdsourced warnings of accidents and speed traps just like Google's Waze app.


The pandemic has exposed the inequitable state of Internet connectivity across the country. It's all the more infuriating given the government's prior efforts to address the broadband gap. Ace tech policy reporter Tony Romm at the Washington Post takes a deep dive into one problematic program known as Lifeline.

Many Lifeline subscribers are stuck with service so subpar that it would be unrecognizable to most app-loving, data-hungry smartphone users, according to interviews with more than two dozen participants and policy experts, including members of Congress, Biden administration officials, state regulators, telecom executives and public-interest advocates. The program’s inadequacies are so great that even those who are eligible for help often turn it down: More than 33 million households are eligible to receive Lifeline support, yet only 1 in 4 of these Americans actually takes advantage of it, according to U.S. government estimates prepared in October.

Yet attempts to update Lifeline and remedy its well-known shortcomings have stalled in Washington for years. The recently departed Trump administration even gutted plans to adapt the telecom benefit program so that it would have been more useful in helping people obtain broadband more easily at home, a change that might have been helpful now that state and federal health officials are pleading with people to stay indoors.


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What with the classic movie starring Judy Garland, a brilliant Broadway musical adaptation that opened with Idina Menzel, and more than a few spinoff flops, you might think Hollywood was done with the Wizard of Oz. Not so. New Line Cinema and director Nicole Kassell are going to the Emerald City once again. Maybe the Cowardly Lion and the Tinman get vaccinated this time?

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