The Switchboard: Has HealthCare.gov worked out its glitches?

December 2, 2013

This photo of part of the HealthCare.gov Web site is photographed in Washington, on Nov. 29, 2013. The beleaguered health insurance website has had periods of down times as as the government tries to fix the problems. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Amazon envisions eventually delivering packages in 30 minutes via drones. The Switch's Timothy B. Lee reports on Amazon CEO (and Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos's plan to deliver goods via drones. "Bezos showed CBS's Charlie Rose a working prototype of an eight-rotor helicopter drone called an 'octocopter,' " writes Lee. "Emblazoned with "Amazon Prime Air," the flying robot has a claw at the bottom that allows it to scoop up packages at Amazon fulfillment centers and carry them to customers' front lawns." But this plan is mostly theoretical for the moment: The FAA isn't expected to release regulations for civilian drones in the national airspace until 2015.

When algorithms grow accustomed to your face. Anne Eisenberg at the New York Times writes about the increasingly real possibility of technology reading facial expressions. "With face-reading software, a computer’s webcam might spot the confused expression of an online student and provide extra tutoring. Or computer-based games with built-in cameras could register how people are reacting to each move in the game and ramp up the pace if they seem bored," she explains. "But the rapidly developing technology is far from infallible, and it raises many questions about privacy and surveillance."

Patent trolls have a surprising ally: universities. Our own Timothy B. Lee writes about an interesting letter opposing legislation aimed at curbing patent trolling signed by some academic groups. "Essentially, the universities are concerned that the legislation would make it harder for patent holders to enforce their patents." And they have a point: "The line between patent trolls and other patent holders isn't always clear, so any reform designed to make patent trolling more difficult is also going to inconvenience many conventional patent holders — including universities." However, he argues that the patent practices of universities sometimes mean "maximizing licensing revenue rather than maximizing benefit to the public."

The White House says it met its Obamacare goal. There’s still more work ahead. Wonkblog's Sarah Kliff chronicles the latest on the HealthCare.gov marketplace. According to the Obama administration, "the average response time for the Web site has fallen from 8 seconds in late October to about 0.75 seconds on Nov. 29" and "the amount of time that the Web site is up and functional has more than doubled in the past month" she reports. However, "there were no details yet on the back end of the system, the part that sends out enrollment data to insurance plans when someone signs up for their products," which insurers say has also had issues since the launch of the site.

Silk Road competitor shuts down and another plans to go offline after claimed $6 million theft.  An online black market called "Sheep" is closing down after an alleged $6 million bitcoin heist, while another site, Black Market Reloaded, also plans to go offline, reports Andy Greenberg at Forbes. It appears Sheep may be using the theft to justify taking off with as much as $44 million worth of user bitcoins, according to transactions showing the movement of 39,900 bitcoins in the public blockchain.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Timothy B. Lee | December 1, 2013