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MSCHF mounted a remote-control paintball gun to Spot

I’ve piloted Spot a number of ways in a number of different settings. I had the chance to control the robot for the first time at one of our Robotics events a number of years back, and drove one around an obstacle course at Boston Dynamics’ headquarters. More recently, I navigated it via web browser as a test of the robot’s new remote interface.

But a recent test drive was different. For one thing, it wasn’t officially sanctioned by Boston Dynamics. Of course, the highly sophisticated quadrupedal robot has been out in the world for a while, and a few enterprising souls have begun to offer a remote Spot walking experience through the streets of San Francisco.

The latest project form MSCHF isn’t that. That should come as no surprise, of course. The Brooklyn-based company is never that straightforward. It’s the same organization that gave us the “pirate radio” streaming service All The Streams.FM and that wild Amazon Echo ultrasonic jammer. More than anything, their events are comments — on privacy, on consumerism or this case, a kind of dystopian foreshadowing of what robotics might become.

Like the rest of the world, the company was fascinated when Boston Dynamics put Spot up for sale — but unlike most of us, MSCHF actually managed to cobble together $75,000 to buy one.

And then it mounted a paintball gun to its back.

Image Credits: MSCHF

Starting Wednesday, users will be able to pilot a Spot unit through MSCHF’s site, and fire off a paintball gun in a closed setting. The company calls it “Spot’s Rampage.”

“The stream will start Wednesday at 1 PM EST,” MSCHF’s Daniel Greenberg told TechCrunch. “We will have a four-camera livestream going and as long as you’re on the site on your phone, you will have an equal chance of being able to control Spot, and every two minutes the driver will change. It should go for a few hours.”

Ahead of the launch of Spot’s web portal, the company built an API to remotely control both Spot’s SDK and the paintball gun mounted to the robot’s back. It’s a setup Boston Dynamics isn’t particularly thrilled with. Understandably so. For a company that has long been dealing with the blowback of cautionary science fiction like Black Mirror, the optics of a third-party mounting a gun — even one that shoots paint — are less than ideal.

Boston Dynamics tells TechCrunch that it was interested in working with the company early on.

“They came to us with the idea that they were going to do a creative project with Spot,” a rep told TechCrunch. “They’re a creative group of guys, who have done a bunch of creative things. In our conversations, we said that if you want to cooperate with us, we want to make it clear that the robots will not be used in any way that hurts people.”

Boston Dynamics balked when paintball gun entered the conversation. On Friday, it issued the following statement through Twitter:

Today we learned that an art group is planning a spectacle to draw attention to a provocative use of our industrial robot, Spot. To be clear, we condemn the portrayal of our technology in any way that promotes violence, harm, or intimidation. Our mission is to create and deliver surprisingly capable robots that inspire, delight & positively impact society. We take great care to make sure our customers intend to use our robots for legal uses. We cross-check every purchase request against the U.S. Government’s denied persons and entities lists, prior to authorizing a sale.

In addition, all buyers must agree to our Terms and Conditions of Sale, which state that our products must be used in compliance with the law, and cannot be used to harm or intimidate people or animals. Any violation of our Terms of Sale will automatically void the product’s warranty and prevent the robot from being updated, serviced, repaired or replaced. Provocative art can help push useful dialogue about the role of technology in our daily lives. This art, however, fundamentally misrepresents Spot and how it is being used to benefit our daily lives.

The statement is in line with the language in Spot’s contract, which prohibits using the robot to do anything illegal, or to intimidate or harm people. The company says it does additional “due diligence” with potential customers, including background checks.

Image Credits: MSCHF

The application is something of a gray area where Boston Dynamics is concerned. MSCHF approached the robotics company with its idea and Boston Dynamics balked, believing it wasn’t in-line with the stated mission for the quadrupedal robots. The official Spot’s Rampage site notes:

We talked with Boston Dynamics and they HATED [emphasis theirs] this idea. They said they would give us another TWO Spots for FREE if we took the gun off. That just made us want to do this even more and if our Spot stops working just know they have a backdoor override built into each and every one of these little robots.

Boston Dynamics says the company’s “understanding of the interaction” is “inaccurate.”

“We get approached by marketing opportunities all the time to create a really fantastic and compelling experience,” the company adds. “Selling one robot is not that interesting. Creating an amazing interactive experience is really compelling for us. One of the things they pitched to us was an interactive idea. It’s an expensive robot and they wanted to create an interactive experience where anybody can control the robot. We thought that was super cool and compelling.”

Boston Dynamics says it pitched the idea of using Spot’s robot arm to paint the physical space with a brush, rather than using the paintball gun. The company also offered to send technicians to the site to help maintain the robot during the stream, along with a few models as back up.

MSCHF’s inclusion of the paintball gun is, ultimately, about more than simply painting the canvas. The image of the robot with a gun — even one that only shoots paint — is menacing. And that’s kind of the point.

“It’s easy to look at these robots dance and cavort and see them as cute semi-sentient little friends,” says Greenberg. “They’re endearing when they mess up and fall over. We’ve adopted the trappings of that scenario by creating a ‘bull-in-a-china-shop’ scenario. Still, it’s worth remembering the big versions of Spot [Big Dog] were explicitly military mules, and that their public deployments tend to be by city agencies and law enforcement. At the end of the day, Spot is a terrestrial UAV – when you get to drive this robot and experience the thrill of pulling the trigger your adrenaline spikes — but, we hope, a few minutes later you feel a distinct chill. Anyone in their right mind knows these little cuties will kill people sooner or later.”

While early Boston Dynamics robots were, indeed, funded by DARPA for use as transport vehicles, the company is quick to distance itself from even the remotest hint of ominous imagery. Boston Dynamics came under fire from the ACLU after showcasing footage of a Spot being used in Massachusetts State police drills onstage at a TechCrunch robotics event.

Image Credits: MSCHF

The company told TechCrunch at the time:

Right now we’re at a scale where we can pick and choose the partners we engage with and make sure that they have a similar deployment and a vision for how robots are used. For example, not using robots in a way that would physically harm or intimidate people. But also have a realistic expectation for what a robot can and cannot do.

As MSCHF prepares to launch its event, the company is echoing those sentiments.

“I turned down a customer that wanted to use Spot for a haunted house,” Boston Dynamics tells TechCrunch. “Even putting it in that context of using our technology to scare people was not within our terms of use and not how we imagined the product being beneficial for people, and so we declined that initial sale. Had this concept been brought to us while we were in the initial sales discussions, we probably would have said, ‘there’s Arduino quadruped that you could easily put this activation together. Go do that. This isn’t representative of how we view our technology being used.’ ”

Image Credits: MSCHF

But the question of whether the company can put the toothpaste back in the tube remains. In cases of violations of the Terms of Service, the company can opt not to renew the license, which effectively deactivates it the next time a firmware update is due. Other cases could essentially void the warranty, meaning the company won’t service it.

A paintball gun being fired in a closed space likely doesn’t fall under harm, intimidation or illegal activity, however. So it’s not entirely clear whether Boston Dynamics has a direct course of action in this case.

“This is something we’re evaluating now, around this particular use case,” Boston Dynamics says. “We do have other terms of service in there, regarding modification of the robot in a way that makes it unsafe. We’re trying to understand what the implications are.”

Boston Dynamics (whose sale to Hyundai is expected to close in June) has devoted a good deal of time to showcasing the various tasks the robot can perform, from routine inspections at hazard sites to the complex dance moves it’s performed in a recent viral video. MSCHF’s primary — and, really, only — use is an interactive art piece.

“To be honest, we don’t have any further plans [for the robot],” says Greenberg. “I know we won’t do another drop with it as we do not do repeats so we will just have to get really creative. Maybe a waking cup holder.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/22/mschf-mounted-a-remote-control-paintball-gun-to-spot/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brian Heater

Planning 500,000 charging points for EVs by 2025, Shell becomes the latest company swept up in EV charging boom

Shell’s plan to roll out 500,000 electric charging station in just four years is the latest sign of an EV charging infrastructure boom that has prompted investors to pour cash into the industry and inspired a few companies to become public companies in search of the capital needed to meet demand.

Since the beginning of the year, three companies have been acquired by special purpose acquisition vehicles and are on a path to go public, while a third has raised tens of millions from some of the biggest names in private equity investing for its own path to commercial viability.

The SPAC attack began in September when an electric vehicle charging network ChargePoint struck a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Switchback Energy Acquisition Corporation, with a market valuation of $2.4 billion. The company’s public listing will debut February 16 on the New York Stock Exchange.

In January, EVgo, an owner and operator of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, agreed to merge with the SPAC Climate Change Crisis Real Impact I Acquisition for a valuation of $2.6 billion— a huge win for the company’s privately held owner, the power development and investment company LS Power. LS Power and EVgo management, which today own 100% of the company will be rolling all of its equity into the transaction. Once the transaction closes in the second quarter, LS Power and EVgo will hold a 74% stake in the newly combined company.

One more deal soon followed. Volta Industries agreed to merge this month with Tortoise Acquisition II, a tie-up that would give the charging company named after battery inventor Alessandro Volta a $1.4 billion valuation. The deal sent shares of the SPAC company, trading under the ticker SNPR, rocketing up 31.9% in trading earlier this week to $17.01. The stock is currently trading around $15 per-share.

 

Not to be outdone, private equity firms are also getting into the game. Riverstone Holdings, one of the biggest names in private equity energy investment, placed its own bet on the charging space with an investment in FreeWire. That company raised $50 million in new round of funding earlier this year.

“The writing is on the wall and the investors have to take the time. There’s been a flight out of the traditional investment opportunities in markets,” said FreeWire chief executive, Arcady Sosinov, in an interview. “There’s been a flight out fo the oil and gas companies and out fo the traditional utilities. You have to look at other opportunities… This is going to be the largest growth opportunity of the next ten years.”

FreeWire deploys its infrastructure with BP currently, but the company’s charging technology can be rolled out to fast food companies, post offices, grocery stores, or anywhere where people go and spend somewhere between 20 minutes and an hour. With the Biden Administration’s plan to boost EV adoption in federal fleets, post offices actually represent another big opportunity for charging networks, Sosinov said.

“One of the reasons we find electrification of mobility so attractive is because it’s not if or how, it’s when,” said Robert Tichio, a partner at Riverstone in charge of the firm’s ESG efforts. “Penetration rates are incredibly low… compare that to Norway or Northern Europe. They have already achieved double digit percentages.”

A recent Super Bowl commercial from GM featuring Will Farrell showed just how far ahead Norway is when it comes to electric vehicle adoption. 

“The demands onc capital in the electrification of transport will begin to approach three quarters of a trillion annually,” Tichio said. “The short answer to your question is that the needs for capital now that we have collectively, politically, socially economically come to a consensus in terms of where we’re going and we couldn’t say that 18 months ago is going to be at a tipping point.”

Shell already has electric vehicle charging infrastructure that it has deployed in some markets. Back in 2019 the company acquired the Los Angeles-based company Greenlots, an EV charging developer. And earlier this year Shell made another move into electric vehicle charging with the acquisition of Ubitricity in the UK.

“As our customers’ needs evolve, we will increasingly offer a range of alternative energy sources, supported by digital technologies, to give people choice and the flexibility, wherever they need to go and whatever they drive,” said Mark Gainsborough, Executive Vice President, New Energies for Shell, in a statement at the time of the Greenlots acquisition. “This latest investment in meeting the low-carbon energy needs of US drivers today is part of our wider efforts to make a better tomorrow. It is a step towards making EV charging more accessible and more attractive to utilities, businesses and communities.”

 

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/11/planning-500000-charging-points-for-evs-by-2025-shell-becomes-the-latest-company-swept-up-in-ev-charging-boom/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jonathan Shieber

A startup using a new tech to make hydrogen extracts cash from Bill Gates’ climate tech fund

Four years ago when Zach Jones went to do due diligence on C-Zero, a startup out of Santa Barbara, Calif. commercializing a new approach to producing hydrogen, for the small family office he was working for, he had no idea he’d wind up as the company’s chief executive officer.

Or that the company would wind up raising money from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the billionaire backed investment vehicle focused on financing companies developing technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and some of the world’s largest industrial and oil and gas companies.

At the time, Jones was working for Beryllium Capital, a small investment office out of South Dakota, and had identified a potential investment opportunity in C-Zero, a company commercializing a new way of making hydrogen developed by Eric McFarland, a professor at UCSB.

There was only one problem — McFarland had the research, but didn’t know how to run a company. That’s when Jones stepped in. His firm didn’t make the investment, but when the former Economist science writer took over, the company was able to nab a seed round from PG&E and SoCal Gas, California’s two massive utilities.

The reason for their investments is the same reason Breakthrough Energy Ventures became interested in the young company. Even with renewable energy production coming on line at a breakneck pace, much of the world will still be using fossil fuels for the foreseeable future and the greenhouse gas emissions from that fossil fuel production needs to go to zero.

C-Zero is developing a technology that converts natural gas to hydrogen, a much cleaner source of fuel, and solid carbon as the only waste stream for use in electrical generation, process heating and the production of commodity chemicals like hydrogen and ammonia. 

“Our CTO talks about running a coal mine in reverse,” Jones said.

Night image of an industrial manufacturing plant. Image Credit: Getty Images

The company’s technology is a form of methane pyrolysis, which uses a proprietary chemical catalyst to separate the hydrogen gas from other particles, leaving behind that solid carbon waste. The process, which is neither waste free (there’s that solid carbon) nor renewable (the feedstock is natural gas), is cleaner than current low-cost methods of hydrogen production and far cheaper than the more renewable ways of making hydrogen.

Making renewable hydrogen requires making electricity to send a charge through water to split the liquid into hydrogen and oxygen. And it takes far more energy to pull a hydrogen atom off of an oxygen atom than it does to split that hydrogen from a carbon atom.

“The reason that hydrogen is interesting is that it is a great supplement to intermittent renewables,” said Jones. “It’s really about energy storage… when you look at long duration storage on a daily and seasonal basis… it becomes exorbitantly expensive. Having a chemical fuel is going to be critical part of decarbonizing everything.”

Jones describes the technology as “pre-combustion carbon capture”, and thinks that it could be critical to unlocking the benefits of hydrogen for a range of industrial applications including heavy vehicle fueling, utility power generation, and industrial power for manufacturing.

He’s not alone.

 “Over $100 billion of commodity hydrogen is produced annually,” said Carmichael Roberts, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the new lead investor in C-Zero’s $11.5 million funding. “Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of that production comes from a process called steam methane reforming, which also produces large quantities of CO2. Finding low cost, low emission methods of hydrogen production – such as the one C-Zero has created – will be critical to unlocking the molecule’s potential to decarbonize major segments of the agricultural, chemical, manufacturing and transportation sectors.”

Joining the Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures in the new round is Eni Next, the investment arm of the Italian oil and gas and power company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and the hydrogen technology-focused venture firm, AP Ventures.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries already has an application for C-Zero’s technology. The company is in the process of re-powering an existing coal plant to run on a combination of natural gas and hydrogen by 2025. It’s possible that C-Zero’s technology could help get there.

Beyond the lower cost methods used in manufacturing hydrogen, C-Zero may be one of the first companies that could qualify for new tax credits on carbon sequestration established by the IRS in the U.S. earlier this year. Those credits would give qualifying companies $20 per ton of sequestered solid carbon — the exact waste product from C-Zero’s process.

Even as C-Zero begins commercializing its technology it faces some stiff competition from some of the largest chemical companies in the world.

The German chemicals giant BASF has been developing its own flavor of methane pyrolysis for nearly a decade and has begun building test facilities to scale up production of its own clean hydrogen.

And yesterday, two other big European corporations are also joining the hydrogen production game as the French chemicals company Air Liquide announced a joint venture with Siemens Energy to work on hydrogen production.

Jones acknowledges that the company’s technology is only a stopgap solution… for now. In the future, as the world moves to renewable natural gas production from waste, he envisions the potential of a potentially circular hydrogen economy.

In 100 years will this technology be around? If it is it’ll be because we’re using renewable natural gas,” Jones said. There are a lot of steps that need to be traveled to get there, but Jones is confident in the near-term success of the project. 

“There’s always going to be  a need for a very energy dense fuel. Liquid hydrogen is the most energy dense thing that’s out there outside of something that’s nuclear in nature,” he said. “I think that hydrogen is here to stay. At the end of the day the lowest cost of energy that has the lowest cost for avoided CO2 is what’s going to win.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/09/a-startup-using-a-new-tech-to-make-hydrogen-extracts-cash-from-bill-gates-climate-tech-fund/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jonathan Shieber

YouTube launches hashtag landing pages to all users

YouTube is embracing the hashtag. The company has been quietly working on a new feature that allows users to better discover content using hashtags — either by clicking on a hashtag on YouTube or by typing in a hashtag link directly. Before, these actions would return a mix of content related to the hashtag, but not only those videos where the hashtag had been directly used. Now that’s changing, as YouTube has fully rolled out its new “hashtag landing pages.”

Going forward, when you click on a hashtag on YouTube, you’ll be taken to a dedicated landing page that contains only videos that are using the hashtag. This page is also sorted to keep the “best” videos at the top, YouTube claimed. The ranking algorithm, however, may need some work as it’s currently surfacing an odd mix of both newer and older videos and seems to be heavily dominated by Indian creator content, in several top categories.

The result, then, is not the equivalent to something like a hashtag search on a social network like Facebook or Twitter, for example, where more recent content gets top billing. For that reason, it may be difficult to use these hashtag landing pages for discovery of new videos to watch, as intended, but could still serve as an interesting research tool for creators looking to better leverage the hashtag format.

For instance, you may find that the #interiordesign hashtag is a crowded place, with 8,400 channels and 29,000 videos, but a niche hashtag like #interiordesignlivingroom has under 100 channels and videos. If people began to use hashtags regularly to seek out videos, using narrowly targeted tags could potentially help creators’ videos be more easily found.

Image Credits: YouTube screenshot

The hashtag landing pages are accessed through clicking on a tag on YouTube, not by doing a hashtag search. However, if you want to go to a particular hashtag page directly, you can use the URL format of youtube.com/hashtag/[yourterm]. (E.g. youtube.com/hashtag/beauty)

We’ve noticed, in testing the feature, that there are not hashtag pages for some controversial terms associated with content YouTube previously said it would block, like QAnon and election conspiracy videos, such as #stopthesteal.

The feature itself was first announced through YouTube’s Community forum earlier this month, where it was described as a new way that YouTube would “group content together and help you discover videos through hashtags.”

On Tuesday, YouTube noted on its “Creator Insider” channel that the feature had been fully rolled out to 100% of all users. (The video’s creator, however, misspoke, by saying you could “search” for hashtags to reach the new landing page. That is not the case today.) The hashtag landing pages are available on both desktop and mobile.

 

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/21/youtube-launches-hashtag-landing-pages-to-all-users/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Sarah Perez

Netflix releases latest diversity numbers

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Netflix has released its first-ever diversity and inclusion report. Though, it’s not the first time Netflix has shared this type of data. Netflix has shared representation numbers since 2013, but the company had not put a bow on it until now.

Worldwide, women make up 47.1% of Netflix’s workforce. Since 2017, representation of white and Asian employees has been on a slow decline, while representation of Hispanic or Latinx, Black, mixed race and folks from native populations has been on the rise. In the U.S., Netflix is 8.1% Hispanic or Latinx, 8% Black, and 5.1% of its employees are mixed race, while 1.3% of employees are either Native American, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and/or from the Middle East or North Africa.

Netflix’s representation of people of color at the leadership level is not perfect but it’s certainly better than that of its counterparts in the tech industry. The company’s leadership team is 15.7% Asian, 9.5% Black, 4.9% Hispanic and 4.1% of Netflix’s higher-ups are mixed race.

Netflix has not laid out any concrete goals, but says it’s generally wanting to increase representation by hiring more inclusively and building out its recruiting networks, its VP of inclusion and diversity, Vernā Myers, said in the report. Additionally, Netflix says it wants to focus more on increasing inclusion and representation of folks outside of the U.S., as well as find a way to measure what the company called “inclusion health.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/13/netflix-releases-latest-diversity-numbers/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Megan Rose Dickey

Microsoft’s latest business-focused Surface is focused on remote work

As CES starts in earnest today, I anticipate we’ll be seeing a lot of hardware focused on remote work. PC sales saw a nice spike last year, even as smartphone sales continued to slip. There was a lot of adapting that needed to be done, moving from offices to virtual work places, and now we’re beginning to see the fruits of that push from hardware makers.

The new Surface Pro 7+ certainly seems to fit the bill. I’m still hesitant to recommend a convertible with a keyboard case as a primary productivity device, but people do seem increasingly willing to move in that direction.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Top line features include optional LTE and faster processing (up to 2.1x per Microsoft’s numbers) via an 11th Gen Intel Core processor. That’s paired with up to 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. There’s a 1080p front-facing webcam for video conferences and a quartet of mics.

Ports include one full-size USB-A and that pesky Surface connector and, unfortunately, only a single USB-C. Microsoft seems pretty committed to that last bit, to its detriment. The device should get up to 15 hours of battery on a charge — which isn’t exceptional, but isn’t bad either.

It starts at $899 for the Wi-Fi version and $1,149 for LTE. Pre-order starts today and it will ship next week. Speaking of shipping, the already announced Surface Hub 2S 85 whiteboard is finally set to do just that next month in “select markets.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/11/microsofts-latest-business-focused-surface-is-focused-on-remote-work/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brian Heater

San Francisco police are prepping for a pro-Trump rally at Twitter headquarters

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San Francisco police are preparing for a pro-Trump protest at Twitter’s headquarters, a building which has been essentially abandoned since the start of the pandemic last year, with most Twitter employees working remotely.

The potential protest comes days after Twitter banned the president from using its service — his favorite form of communication to millions of followers — following what the company called his continued incitements to violence in the wake of the January 6 assault on the Capitol last week by a mob of his followers.

“The San Francisco Police Department is aware of the possibility of a demonstration on the 1300 block of Market Street (Twitter) tomorrow, Monday January 11, 2021. SFPD has been in contact with representatives from Twitter. We will have sufficient resources available to respond to any demonstrations as well as calls for service citywide,” a police department spokesperson wrote in an email. “The San Francisco Police Department is committed to facilitating the public’s right to First Amendment expressions of free speech. We ask that everyone exercising their First Amendment rights be considerate, respectful, and mindful of the safety of others.”

The San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported the preparations from SF police, noted that posts on a popular internet forum for Trump supporters who have relocated from Reddit called for the president’s adherents to protest his Twitter ban outside of the company’s headquarters on Monday.

Twitter is one of several tech companies to deplatform the president and many of his supporters in the wake of the riot at the Capitol on Wednesday.

At this point, most of the biggest names in tech have pledged to deny service to the President for what they said was his incitement to violence in the wake of the Capitol hill raid that left five people dead — including a Capitol Police officer.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/10/san-francisco-police-are-prepping-for-a-pro-trump-rally-at-twitter-headquarters/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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Stolen computers are the least of the government’s security worries

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Reports that a laptop from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office was stolen during the pro-Trump rioters’ sack of the Capitol building has some worried that the mob may have access to important, even classified information. Fortunately that’s not the case — even if this computer and others had any truly sensitive information, which is unlikely, like any corporate asset it can almost certainly be disabled remotely.

The cybersecurity threat in general from the riot is not as high as one might think, as we explained yesterday. Specific to stolen or otherwise compromised hardware, there are several facts to keep in mind.

In the first place, the offices of elected officials are in many ways already public spaces. These are historic buildings through which tours often go, in which meetings with foreign dignitaries and other politicians are held, and in which thousands of ordinary civil servants without any security clearance would normally be working shoulder-to-shoulder. The important work they do is largely legislative and administrative — largely public work, where the most sensitive information being exchanged is probably unannounced speeches and draft bills.

But recently, you may remember, most of these people were working from home. Of course during the major event of the joint session confirming the electors, there would be more people than normal. But this wasn’t an ordinary day at the office by a long shot — even before hundreds of radicalized partisans forcibly occupied the building. Chances are there wasn’t a lot of critical business being conducted on the desktops in these offices. Classified data lives in the access-controlled SCIF, not on random devices sitting in unsecured areas.

In fact, the laptop is reported by Reuters as having been part of a conference room’s dedicated hardware — this is the dusty old Inspiron that lives on the A/V table so you can put your PowerPoint on it, not Pelosi’s personal computer, let alone a hard line to top secret info.

Even if there was a question of unintended access, it should be noted that the federal government, as any large company might, has a normal IT department with a relatively modern provisioning structure. The Pelosi office laptop, like any other piece of hardware being used for official House and Senate business, is monitored by IT and should be able to be remotely disabled or wiped. The challenge for the department is figuring out which hardware does actually need to be handled that way — as was reported earlier, there was (understandably) no official plan for a violent takeover of the Capitol building.

In other words, it’s highly likely that the most that will result from the theft of government computers on Jan. 6 will be inconvenience or at most some embarrassment should some informal communications become public. Staffers do gossip and grouse, of course, on both back and official channels.

That said, the people who invaded these offices and stole that equipment — some on camera — are already being arrested and charged. Just because the theft doesn’t present a serious security threat doesn’t mean it wasn’t highly illegal in several different ways.

Any cybersecurity official will tell you that the greater threat by far is the extensive infiltration of government contractors and accounts through the SolarWinds breach. Those systems are packed with information that was never meant to be public and will likely provide fuel for credential-related attacks for years to come.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/08/stolen-computers-are-the-least-of-the-governments-security-worries/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Devin Coldewey

Why Twitter banned President Trump

Twitter permanently banned the U.S. president Friday, taking a dramatic step to limit Trump’s ability to communicate with his followers. That decision, made in light of his encouragement for Wednesday’s violent invasion of the U.S. Capitol, might seem sudden for anyone not particularly familiar with his Twitter presence.

In reality, Twitter gave Trump many, many second chances over his four years as president, keeping him on the platform due to the company’s belief that speech by world leaders is in the public interest, even if it breaks the rules.

Now that Trump’s gone for good, we have a pretty interesting glimpse into the policy decision making that led Twitter to bring the hammer down on Friday. The company first announced Trump’s ban in a series of tweets from its @TwitterSafety account but also linked to a blog post detailing its thinking.

In that deep dive, the company explains that it gave Trump one last chance after suspending and then reinstating his account for violations made on Wednesday. But the following day, a pair of tweets the president made pushed him over the line. Twitter said those tweets, pictured below, were not examined on a standalone basis, but rather in the context of his recent behavior and this week’s events.

“… We have determined that these Tweets are in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy and the user @realDonaldTrump should be immediately permanently suspended from the service,” Twitter wrote.

Screenshot via Twitter

This is how the company explained its reasoning, point by point:

  • “President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate and is seen as him disavowing his previous claim made via two Tweets (1, 2) by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Scavino, that there would be an ‘orderly transition’ on January 20th.
  • “The second Tweet may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a ‘safe’ target, as he will not be attending.
  • “The use of the words ‘American Patriots’ to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the US Capitol.
  • “The mention of his supporters having a ‘GIANT VOICE long into the future’ and that ‘They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!’ is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an ‘orderly transition’ and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election.
  • “Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.”

All of that is pretty intuitive, though his most fervent supporters aren’t likely to agree. Ultimately these decisions, as much as they do come down to stated policies, involve a lot of subjective analysis and interpretation. Try as social media companies might to let algorithms make the hard calls for them, the buck stops with a group of humans trying to figure out the best course of action.

Twitter’s explanation here offers a a rare totally transparent glimpse into how social networks decide what stays and what goes. It’s a big move for Twitter — one that many people reasonably believe should have been made months if not years ago — and it’s useful to have what is so often an inscrutable high-level decision making process laid out plainly and publicly for all to see.

Techcrunch?d=2mJPEYqXBVI Techcrunch?d=7Q72WNTAKBA Techcrunch?d=yIl2AUoC8zA Techcrunch?i=Epd3BNFr9Xk:oktAaC818Y8:-BT Techcrunch?i=Epd3BNFr9Xk:oktAaC818Y8:D7D Techcrunch?d=qj6IDK7rITs

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/08/why-twitter-banned-president-trump/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Taylor Hatmaker

TikTok bans videos of Trump inciting mob, blocks #stormthecapital and other hashtags

GettyImages-1229058538.jpeg?w=600

For obvious reasons, Trump doesn’t have a TikTok account. But the president’s speeches that helped incite the mob who yesterday stormed the U.S. Capitol will have no home on TikTok’s platform. The company confirmed to TechCrunch its content policy around the Capitol riots will see it removing videos of Trump’s speeches to supporters. It will also redirect specific hashtags used by rioters, like #stormthecapitol and #patriotparty, to reduce their content’s visibility in the app.

TikTok says that Trump’s speeches, where the president again reiterated claims of a fraudulent election, are being removed on the grounds that they violate the company’s misinformation policy. That policy defines misinformation as content that is inaccurate or false. And it explains that while TikTok encourages people to have respectful conversations on subjects that matter to them, it doesn’t permit misinformation that can cause harm to individuals, their community or the larger public.

A rioting mob intent on stopping democratic processes in the United States seems to fit squarely under that policy.

However, TikTok says it will allow what it calls “counter speech” against the Trump videos. This is a form of speech that’s often used to fight misinformation, where the creator presents the factual information or disputes the claims being made in another video. TikTok in November had allowed counter speech in response to claims from Trump supporters that the election was “rigged,” even while it blocked top hashtags that were used to promote these ideas.

In the case of Trump’s speeches, TikTok will allow a user to, for example, use the green screen effect to comment on the speech — unless those comments support the riots.

In addition, TikTok is allowing some videos of the violence that took place at the Capitol to remain. For example, if the video condemns the violence or originates from a news organization, it may be allowed. TikTok is also applying its recently launched opt-in viewing screens on “newsworthy” content that may depict graphic violence.

These screens, announced in December, appear on top of videos some viewers may find graphic or distressing. Videos with the screens applied are already eligible for TikTok’s main “For You” feed, but may not be prohibited. When a viewer encounters a screen, they can just tap a button to skip the video or they can choose to “watch anyway.” (It could not provide any example of the screens in use, however.)

Anecdotally, we saw videos that showed the woman who was shot and killed yesterday appear on TikTok and then quickly disappear. But those we came across were from individual users, not news organizations. They were also not really condemning the riot — they were just direct video footage. It’s unclear if the specific videos we saw were those that TikTok itself censored or if the user chose to remove them instead.

Separately from graphic content, TikTok says it will remove videos that seek to incite, glorify or promote violence, as those also violate its Community Guidelines. In these cases, the videos will be removed as TikTok identifies them — either via automation or user reporting.

And, as it did in November, TikTok is proactively blocking hashtags to reduce content’s visibility. It’s now blocking tags like #stormthecapitol and #patriotparty among others, and redirects those queries to its Community Guidelines. There are currently redirections across dozens of variations of those hashtags and others. The company doesn’t share its full list in order to protect its safeguards, it says.

TikTok had previously blocked tags like #stopthesteal and #QAnon, in a similar proactive manner.

We should point out that for all Twitter’s posturing about safety and moderation, it allowed Trump to return to its app, after a few key tweets were deleted. And it has yet to block hashtags associated with false claims, like #stopthesteal, which continues to work today. Facebook, on the other hand, banned Trump from Facebook and Instagram for at least two weeks. Like TikTok, it had previously blocked the #stopthesteal and #sharpiegate hashtags with a message about its Community Standards. (Today those searches are erroring out with messages that say “This Page Isn’t Available Right Now,” we noticed.)

TikTok’s content moderation efforts have been fairly stringent in comparison with other social networks, as it regularly hides, downranks and removes users’ posts. But it has also been accused of engaging in “censorship” by those who believe it’s being too aggressive about newsworthy content.

That’s led to users finding more creative ways to keep their videos from being banned — like using misspellings, coded language or clever editing to circumvent TikTok policies. At other times, creators will simply give up and direct viewers to their Instagram, where their content is backed up and less policed.

“Hateful behavior and violence have no place on TikTok,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch, when we asked for a statement on the Capitol events. “Content or accounts that seek to incite, glorify or promote violence violate our Community Guidelines and will be removed,” they added.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/07/tiktok-bans-videos-of-trump-inciting-mob-blocks-stormthecapital-and-other-hashtags/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Sarah Perez

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