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December 2020
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Nikola's Bad Quarter: Company's Deal For General Motors Ownership Stake Goes Sideways

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The trouble for Nikola Motor Company began only in September, a couple of months ago. That's when a hedge fund very publicly called out the company and its founder, Trevor Milton, for essentially fooling people with doctored video of its electric semi-truck product to get them to invest in the company. This led to rumors of federal investigations, the resignation of Milton, and the company idiotically trying to use copyright takedowns to silence its critics. All of this was likely in the service of trying to save a very public $2 billion deal with General Motors that was due to be closed upon in early December.Well, what was Nikola's bad month is turning into a very bad quarter, as the General Motors deal has gone fairly sideways.

Nikola (NKLA) won’t have General Motors (GM) as an investor, at least for right now.The electric truck maker said on Monday it has revised the terms of a prior deal with GM, and that the auto giant won’t be taking a stake in Nikola. The two companies will not work together to produce Nikola’s pickup truck, the Badger. Nikola’s shares were down more than 21% in pre-market trading.
The Badger was supposed to be a consumer pickup truck made in partnership with GM, utilizing GM's manufacturing and logistics operations alongside Nikola's electric batteries and drivetrain. But now, the general consensus is that this deal going under with GM has rendered the Badger completely dead.
EV and hydrogen truck start-up Nikola's deal with General Motors has fizzled, the EV startup revealed, after several weeks of speculation about a deal that would have seen the Michigan auto giant produce the Nikola Badger truck. Nikola indicated that it had reached a non-binding memorandum of understanding with GM regarding collaboration on GM's hydrogen technology for large trucks, but that the pickup aimed at private consumers was not currently contemplated with GM backing. In fact, the Badger now appears entirely dead, with Nikola indicating that it will refund deposits for the EV truck.
For its part, Nikola is pointing to the deal with GM not being completely dead. Instead, the company is going to focus on producing semi-trucks that GM will make the fuel-cell technology for. The deal is now essentially a basic supply partnership, but the real impact of the change of deal terms is that GM has backed away from taking an ownership stake in Nikola.
But Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities writes in a new note that the “headline” from the new agreement is that GM won’t be taking a stake in Nikola — and that news “will be viewed as a clear negative.”“This went from a game changer deal for Nikola to a good supply partnership but nothing to write home about and the Street will be disappointed accordingly along with lingering lockup worries,” Ives wrote.
All because the company's founder wanted to pretend like it had a produced a product that did something that it absolutely did not. It sure seems like it would have been better for the company overall if it had just told the truth.

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posted at: 12:00am on 04-Dec-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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After Being Notified Of Info It Should Have Already Been Aware Of, LAPD Bans Clearview Use By Investigators

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The Los Angeles Police Department is shutting down a very small percentage of its facial recognition searches. Last month, public records exposed the fact that the LAPD had been lying about its facial recognition use for years. Up until 2019, the department maintained it did not use the tech. Records obtained by the Los Angeles Times showed it had actually used it 30,000 times over the past decade.The most recent development in the LAPD's mostly dishonest use of this tech is that it will not allow personnel to mess around with certain third-party offerings. As Buzzfeed reports, the LAPD has forbidden the use of Clearview by officers following the release of information the department already should have already been aware of.

Documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News showed that more than 25 LAPD employees ran nearly 475 searches with Clearview AI over a three-month period beginning at the end of 2019.[...]LAPD officials confirmed that investigators were using Clearview AI but declined to say which officers and which specific cases it was used for. They also refused to say whether the facial recognition software has led to arrests of any suspects.
Now that the public knows what the LAPD already should have known, the department is changing its policy to exclude Clearview… and probably not much else.
The Los Angeles Police Department has banned the use of commercial facial recognition systems, following inquiries from BuzzFeed News about its officers' use of a controversial software known as Clearview AI.
Have to love the fact that the LAPD needed to be apprised of what its own investigators were doing by journalists. That's the level of internal oversight we've come to expect from the nation's law enforcement agencies. If you don't look for anything, it's almost impossible to find misconduct and abuses of power. No news is the best news. And it can easily be achieved by doing nothing at all.This ban only affects "commercial" software which means investigators will still be able to use (and misuse) more official products, like the facial recognition system owned by the county -- the same one the LAPD spent years denying it used.And, although it's an incremental change that seems to only forbid the use of one particular facial recognition product, it's still good to see another law enforcement agency kick Clearview to the curb. Clearview's unproven AI trawls a database of photos scraped from the internet, making it a highly questionable addition to any government agency's surveillance repertoire. And Clearview has been highly irresponsible in its marketing and distribution of its tech, making unverified claims about law enforcement successes while encouraging government employees to test drive the software by feeding it faces of friends, family members, celebrities, etc.If more agencies uninvite this third-party interloper, law enforcement critical mass will make Clearview's business plan untenable. It's already ditched most of its private customers in response to lawsuits. If the potential customers it has left refuse to do business with it, it will soon become little more than a horrible memory.

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posted at: 12:00am on 04-Dec-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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Congress Decides To Ignore Trump's Ridiculous Veto Threat If Military Authorization Doesn't Wipe Out Section 230

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This always seemed like the the most likely outcome, but Trump had complicated things with his temper tantrum demands and his threat to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if it didn't include a clause wiping out Section 230. However, Congress has come to its senses and leaders of both parties have said they'll ignore his impotent veto threat and move forward with the bill as is.

The final version of the National Defense Authorization Act that will soon be considered by the House and Senate won't include Trump's long-sought repeal of the legal immunity for online companies, known as Section 230, according to lawmakers and aides.
Key to this was Senate Armed Services Chair Jim Inhofe pointing out the obvious:
"First of all 230 has nothing to do with the military."
That's both first of all and last of all. The whole attempt to use the NDAA to attack CDA 230 was just bizarre.Inhofe did say he still thinks that 230 should go, but not as a part of the NDAA. A few other Republicans are finally speaking up as well.
Still, Republicans on Wednesday showed some signs of exasperation with the president's latest effort. As one GOP lawmaker put it: Republicans are sick of this shit.Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, put it more delicately. While he said he understood the president's frustrations with Section 230, it was not worth imperiling the broader defense bill.The NDAA is so important to the men and women that wear the uniform that this should not be an item to veto the act over, he said. So I would hope he would reconsider his position on it.And Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said his preference would be to pass the NDAA and then address Section 230 separately.
Democratic critics of Section 230 were equally as annoyed. Remember, Senator Richard Blumenthal has been one of the most vocal critics of Section 230 going back to the time before he was a Senator and when he was stymied in trying to sue Craigslist by Section 230 (he was upset that sex workers use Craigslist, and wanted to blame Craigslist for the fact that sex workers exist).
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a co-sponsor of the only bipartisan bill targeting Section 230 to advance out of committee this Congress, called the veto threat "deeply dangerous and just plain stupid.He added, Reforming Section 230 deserves its own debate one that I've helped lead in Congress, and which I look forward to continuing with a more serious, thoughtful administration in January.
In another article, Rep. Frank Pallone stated the obvious:
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone said in a statement that Trump is "holding a critical defense bill hostage in a petulant attempt to punish Twitter for fact-checking him. Our military and national security should not suffer just because Trump's ego was bruised."
There is still plenty of appetite to attack Section 230. And there will be lots of dumb fights about it, but it's not going down this way.

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posted at: 12:00am on 03-Dec-2020
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Content Moderation Case Study: Reclaiming A Hashtag (2020)

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Summary: The Proud Boys, a group with a history of violent interactions, often in support of Donald Trump, received prominent attention during the first Presidential debate of 2020 between Trump and Joe Biden. Upon being asked about whether or not he would condemn white supremacist groups that support him, Trump asked for an example. When given The Proud Boys, Trump told them to stand back and stand by, which many in the group took to be an endorsement of their activities.

While the group has long denied that its views are racist, the group has long said that it is based around Western chauvinism and has been repeatedly associated with violence and white supremacist groups and individuals. Both Twitter and Facebook banned the group in 2018.However, after they received renewed attention at the 2020 debate, actor George Takei suggested reclaiming the #ProudBoys hashtag, and using it to promote the LGBTQ community instead, saying that they could respond to hate with love.
This made the hashtag go viral on a variety of platforms, including Twitter and Instagram (owned by Facebook). In response Facebook was accused (incorrectly) of only just blocking the hashtag after this attempt at reclaiming. However, Facebook exec Andy Stone noted that the opposite was true, and that Facebook was currently in the process of unbanning the hashtag after seeing how it had been reclaimed, and the meaning and usage changed.
Decisions to be made by Facebook:
  • Is banning an entire hashtag appropriate?
  • When do you ban a hashtag associated with violence and bigotry?
  • How do you decide when to reverse such a ban, if the hashtag has been reclaimed by groups seeking to promote counter-messaging?
  • How do you avoid having that unbanned hashtag abused again at a later date?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • How do you create policies for situations that may change over time?
  • How do you handle situations in which the meanings of words and terms may change as other people make use of them?
  • Will banning hashtags or phrases act to prevent this kind of bottom up behavior?
Resolution: By moving quickly, Facebook and Instagram were able to relatively quickly allow for this viral response to reclaim the hashtag from the group. However, it remains an open question whether or not this usage will stay, or if the group will move to reclaim it as well, creating a constant cat & mouse scenario for a content moderation team.Originally published on the Trust & Safety Foundation website

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posted at: 12:00am on 03-Dec-2020
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