government

How cities can fix tourism hell

A steep and rapid rise in tourism has left behind a wake of economic and environmental damage in cities around the globe. In response, governments have been responding with policies that attempt to limit the number of visitors who come in. We’ve decided to spare you from any more Amazon HQ2 talk and instead focus on why cities should shy away from reactive policies and should instead utilize their growing set of technological capabilities to change how they manage tourists within city lines. Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, s...

Prolific swatter and bomb hoaxer who broke up FCC’s net neutrality vote pleads guilty

It was a dramatic moment during the FCC’s net neutrality proceedings last December when the Commission’s public meeting was abruptly evacuated and bomb squads moved in — all while thousands watched on the live stream. The person who called in that threat has just entered a guilty plea to that and numerous other crimes, including a SWAT hoax that killed a man last December. Tyler Barriss is a Kansas resident who has racked up dozens of charges of swatting, calling in bomb threats and other “pranks” that have proven to be anything but. Swatting is the practice of calling the police and convincing them a dangerous armed person is at a given address in order to provoke an aggressive response by police or SWAT officers — a response that can be disastrous or fatal. The latter was the result of o...

How issues of microtransit, congestion and parking are closing in on cities

Earlier this week in a new experimental newsletter I’ve been helping Danny Crichton on, we briefly discussed transit pundit Jarrett Walker’s article in The Atlantic arguing against the view that ridesharing and microtransit will be the future of mass transit. Instead, his thesis is that a properly operated and well-resourced bus system is much more efficient from a coverage, cost, space, and equality perspective. Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on.  I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@te...

Hackers stole income, immigration and tax data in Healthcare.gov breach, government confirms

Hackers siphoned off thousands of Healthcare.gov applications by breaking into the accounts of brokers and agents tasked with helping customers sign up for healthcare plans. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a post buried on its website that found that the hackers obtained “inappropriate access” to a number of broker and agent accounts, which “engaged in excessive searching” of the government’s healthcare marketplace systems. CMS didn’t say how the attackers gained access to the accounts, but said it shut off the affected accounts “immediately.” In a letter sent to affected customers this week (and buried on the Healthcare.gov website), CMS disclosed that sensitive personal data — including partial Social Security numbers, immigration status and some tax informat...

Facebook connects Russia to 100+ accounts it removed ahead of mid-terms

The 115 accounts Facebook took down yesterday for inauthentic behavior ahead of the mid-term elections may indeed have been linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, according to a new statement from the company. It says that a site claiming association with the IRA today posted a list of Instagram accounts it had made which included many Facebook had taken down yesterday, and it also has since removed the rest. The IRA was previously llabeled as responsible for using Facebook to interfere with US politics and the 2016 Presidential election. Facebook’s head of cyber security policy Nathaniel Gleicher issued this statement to TechCrunch: “Last night, following a tip off from law enforcement, we blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked...

A Swedish ISP has blocked Elsevier’s website in protest for forcing it to block Sci-Hub

Bahnhof’s page blocking access to Sci-Hub. (Screenshot: TechCrunch) A little known fact about Swedes: when they get angry, they will often scribble down a note on paper — sometimes anonymously — and leave it where it will be seen, rather than confront a person face-to-face. One extremely angry Swedish pro-freedom internet provider took that passive aggression to a whole new level. On Thursday, Stockholm-based Bahnhof was ordered by a Swedish copyright court to block Sci-Hub, a pirate site dedicated to free access to academic papers and research. The site, operated by a Kazakh student Alexandra Elbakyan, has faced court orders and threats of site blocks across Europe, following lawsuits from academic publishers like Elsevier, which brought the most recent case. Bahnhof was forced to block 2...

Why we lie to ourselves, every day

Human action requires motivation, but what exactly are those motivations? Donating money to a charity might be motivated by altruism, and yet, only 1% of donations are anonymous. Donors don’t just want to be altruistic, they also want credit for that altruism plus badges to signal to others about their altruistic ways. Worse, we aren’t even aware of our true motivations — in fact, we often strategically deceive ourselves to make our behavior appear more pure than it really is. It’s a pattern that manifests itself across all kinds of arenas, including consumption, politics, education, medicine, religion and more. In their book Elephant in the Brain, Kevin Simler, formerly a long-time engineer at Palantir, and Robin Hanson, an associate professor of economics at George Mason University, take...

In a court filing, Edward Snowden says a report critical to an NSA lawsuit is authentic

An unexpected declaration by whistleblower Edward Snowden filed in court this week adds a new twist in a long-running lawsuit against the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. The case, filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation a decade ago, seeks to challenge the government’s alleged illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of Americans, who are largely covered under the Fourth Amendment’s protections against warrantless searches and seizures. It’s a big step forward for the case, which had stalled largely because the government refused to confirm that a leaked document was authentic or accurate. News of the surveillance broke in 2006 when an AT&T technician Mark Klein revealed that the NSA was tapping into AT&T’s network backbone. He alleged that a secret, locked r...

Microsoft has no problem taking the $10B JEDI cloud contract if it wins

The Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI cloud contract bidding process has drawn a lot of attention. Earlier this month, Google withdrew, claiming ethical considerations. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos responded in an interview at Wired25 that he thinks that it’s a mistake for big tech companies to turn their back on the U.S. military. Microsoft president Brad Smith agrees. In a blog post today, he made clear that Microsoft intends to be a bidder in government/military contracts, even if some Microsoft employees have a problem with it. While acknowledging the ethical considerations of today’s most advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, and the ways they could be abused, he explicitly stated that Microsoft will continue to work with the government and the military. “First, we believe in the stron...

California delays its net neutrality law while FCC’s new rules are challenged

California’s much-anticipated net neutrality rules, which were signed into law last month, are being put on ice until a challenge to the FCC’s own rules at the federal level is resolved. It’s unfortunate, but logical — if the FCC rules are undone or modified, the necessity and legality of California’s will also be affected. As you likely remember, the FCC repealed 2015’s net neutrality rules at the end of 2017 and implemented a new, much weaker set that more or less puts broadband providers on the honor system when it comes to indiscriminate handling of your data in transit. California responded by writing its own law establishing similar (and in some ways expanded) consumer protections. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who spearheaded the federal effort to overturn the old rules, was not amused; he...

FCC puts gigabit Wi-Fi on the roadmap by opening up new wireless spectrum

More and more, the internet is delivered wirelessly, but as bandwidth demand grows in each home  — multiple TVs, smart devices, tablets and phones — current Wi-Fi standards are starting to fall short. Fortunately the FCC and wireless industry are prepared for this, and the former has just officially proposed opening up a wide swathe of spectrum to bring our Wi-Fi systems up to gigabit level. Many of the devices we use now operate on what’s called “unlicensed” bands of spectrum, so called because they’re not set aside specifically and tightly regulated, like military or official broadcast bands. Instead the industry was allowed to make what they could out of a set of frequencies as long as they did so within reason, and it’s been a roaring success, promoting both competition and cooperation...

Fake news ‘threat to democracy’ report gets back-burner response from UK gov’t

The UK government has rejected a parliamentary committee’s call for a levy on social media firms to fund digital literacy lessons to combat the impact of disinformation online. The recommendation of a levy on social media platforms was made by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee three months ago, in a preliminary report following a multi-month investigation into the impact of so-called ‘fake news’ on democratic processes. Though it has suggested the terms ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ be used instead, to better pin down exact types of problematic inauthentic content — and on that at least the government agrees. But just not on very much else. At least not yet. Among around 50 policy suggestions in the interim report — which the committee put out quickly exactly to call ...