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President Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is held up in a political stalemate with congressional Democrats. But one of Trump’s most prominent supporters in the tech industry tells me virtual border security is already here — and rapidly expanding.
Palmer Luckey's company, Anduril Industries, is deploying a security system along the border designed to detect illegal crossings, using towers equipped with radar sensors and cameras, as well as artificial intelligence to spot abnormalities human eyes might miss. His company is expanding its systems in California this month under a contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The focus here in Washington is on Trump's call for a physical wall — especially as the president considers declaring a national emergency to build it. After the longest government shutdown in U.S. history did not yield a breakthrough in border security negotiations, Democrats who are resistant to building a physical wall have said they are open to funding for a “smart wall,” or some other alternative to secure the border using technology.
As Trump is expected to amp up his calls for a wall in tonight's State of the Union address, Luckey says technology such as Anduril's system, known as Lattice, could be something that ultimately garners bipartisan support. He wants lawmakers to know that this kind of technology is not a “pie- in-the-sky” fantasy.
“We’re not a concept, we’re not a white paper, we’re a real system that’s actually deployed in multiple sites on the U.S. border,” Luckey tells me. “We just signed a large expansion of our technology on the border, and we’re going to be putting more of it out there.”
Luckey is loudly touting his border wall technology — in stark contrast from many technology titans who have grappled with internal pushback for their work with the Trump administration on immigration. Last year, employees protested Salesforce's software contracts with CBP and Amazon employees called on the company to cut ties with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, especially after reports that the e-commerce giant was selling facial recognition technology to government agencies. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
After facing backlash for his own political beliefs in Silicon Valley, Luckey says he is trying to position Anduril as a company where employees across the political spectrum can be open and proud about doing work for the government. “This is not a place where you come to fight about politics, this is a place you come to work on important national security technology,” Luckey said. “The people who are scared of an environment like that and only want to work in an environment that caters to their particular ideology are probably not the people who would fit in very well.”
Luckey said the need to recruit employees willing to do government work contributed to his decision to headquarter the company in Orange County, Calif., rather than the Bay Area. Luckey says many conservatives, in the minority in Silicon Valley, are silent about their political views for fear of the consequences it could have on their careers down the line. “Most conservatives in Silicon Valley are not being ostracized in any way,” Luckey said. “Because nobody knows they’re a conservative because they dare not tell anyone.”
Luckey couldn’t keep his own personal politics hidden at this point if he wanted to. The 26-year-old who already made a fortune through the sale of his previous company Oculus to Facebook for $2 billion in 2014 was at the center of one of Silicon Valley’s most high-profile political controversies. During the 2016 election he contributed $10,000 to Nimble America, an anti-Hillary Clinton group that promoted far-right memes. He was subsequently fired from Facebook and according to the Wall Street Journal, he has told people the social network's decision was due to his support for Donald Trump.
After co-founding Anduril in 2017, Luckey is trying to temper that image with a push for bipartisan pragmatism at the border. If the parties could reach a consensus on border tech, Luckey certainly stands to benefit.
“We should understand what’s happening on the border, no matter what we believe the policies should be,” Luckey told me. “Republicans and Democrats both support this.”
Amid the border security negotiations, Rep. James E. Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, has proposed funding for border security technology that would involve drones, scanners, and sensors “to create a technological barrier too high to climb over, too wide to go around, and too deep to burrow under,” according to McClatchy.
But it's unlikely that Trump would accept a tech-based alternative to his long-held promises for a physical barrier at the Southern border. He has previously railed against such suggestions on Twitter:
The Democrats are trying to belittle the concept of a Wall, calling it old fashioned. The fact is there is nothing else’s that will work, and that has been true for thousands of years. It’s like the wheel, there is nothing better. I know tech better than anyone, & technology.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 21, 2018
Luckey, for his part, says the country needs both. Anduril currently has a system deployed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection near San Diego, and it will be expanding its systems in California this month under a new contract. It also has a test deployment set up in West Texas.
“There are areas where we need physical infrastructure, but I don’t think we need it across the entire border,” Luckey said. “What you do want is the ability to know what’s happening along the entire border.”
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BITS: Bezos has repeatedly drawn criticism and threats from Trump but nobody has made more money than the Amazon chief executive since the 2016 election, Bloomberg News's Justin Sink reported. In fact, Bezos has become the world's richest person since Trump was elected president: His net worth has increased by $66.2 billion through Friday since the 2016 election. “Bezos’s wealth was valued at $134.8 billion, making his fortune a third bigger than Bill Gates’s, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index,” Sink reported.
Trump has threatened Amazon with antitrust enforcement, higher taxes and higher shipping fees but the threats haven't materialized so far, Bloomberg News reported. And the government maintains a relationship with Amazon. The company has pitched its facial recognition technology to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement while Amazon Web Services is competing for a Defense Department's cloud computing contract — competitors in the bidding have said the Pentagon's approach to the contract gives an unfair advantage to Amazon.
NIBBLES: Some electric scooter and bike companies are issuing punitive fees on some users to curb practices such as parking in an unauthorized area or hoarding equipment, according to the Wall Street Journal's Yuliya Chernova. For instance, the electric scooter rental firm Lime, which is experimenting with penalties in some cities, said the fines aim to abide by local rules and put an end to unwanted practices by riders. In theory, Lime's fines can range from $5 to $2,000 but the company said the highest fee it has imposed is $100, according to the Journal.
Yet some customers have criticized the penalties and the way the companies impose them. “I felt like they put me in a position that was really unfair,” Ben Terrell, who faced a $100 penalty from Lime for allegedly hoarding a scooter after using Lime three times in November last year in Los Angeles, told the Journal. “I did what they told me to do, and even though I followed the rules, I was still being punished.” Terrell said that he was reimbursed following a complaint.
BYTES: The Washington Post's Geoffrey A. Fowler and others have suggested Facebook consider a paid version of its services as the company grapples with privacy scandals. On its 15th birthday, the Information's Reed Albergotti reported that's long been a consideration at the company. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in 2012 asked colleagues whether the social network should consider a subscription-based version of its service, but Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg disagreed with the idea and her position prevailed. Sandberg and others at Facebook who shared her position considered that if Facebook launched a subscription version, the free version of the platform would become less attractive for advertisers.
The problem of whether and how to police content on Facebook also emerged in the years preceding Facebook's 2012 initial public offering as some employees worried about abuse on the platform, but the company didn't not move to massively hire content moderators at the time, the Information reported. “On several occasions, when confronted about the problems with content on the platform, such as hate speech, bullying and disinformation, Ms. Sandberg dismissed the issue entirely, repeating the mantra that the platform ‘polices itself,’ because users could report bad behavior by other users,” Albergotti wrote.
— Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post to mark the company's 15 years that the coming years “will require finding the right balance between the freedoms and responsibilities of a connected world.” Several reporters, experts and former Facebook employees also weighed in online on Facebook's legacy so far.
From the New York Times's Sheera Frenkel:
Facebook is now making critical decisions on issues ranging from content moderation to what qualifies as disinformation. I know they've formed outside councils and partnered with fact checkers, but ultimately, this is a company controlled by one person.— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) February 4, 2019
From Bloomberg News's Sarah Frier:
Zuckerberg is talking about Facebook like it's 2011 and the Arab Spring just happened. Since then, powerful institutions/governments (like Russia) have figured out how to use social media against people. And FB has become a powerful institution itself. https://t.co/EUCre9JGIy pic.twitter.com/iglAvjsGpb— Sarah Frier (@sarahfrier) February 4, 2019
From BuzzFeed News's Ryan Mac:
Zuckerberg also continues a talking point that we've seen in speeches from Sheryl Sandberg that "some people" resisting change will "overly emphasize the negative."— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) February 4, 2019
This is... wild. Dismissing valid criticisms (i.e. Myanmar) as noise from people resistant to change is gross. pic.twitter.com/nlEjPNxGEu
From Wired's Antonio García Martínez, who also is a former Facebook employee:
On the 15th anniversary of Facebook's founding, my rumination on whether the company has been net good or bad for society.— Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) February 4, 2019
From here (and appearing alongside some distinguished company):https://t.co/Nn7WFGu6Uw pic.twitter.com/4jHVc2qKWi
From Peter W. Singer, author of “LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media”:
From Alex Stamos, former chief information security officer at Facebook who now teaches at Stanford University:
The big question now is: What responsibility is it of platforms (like Facebook, but realistically many more now and in the future) to shape the actions of individuals and whole societies, and are we willing to cede that power to these corporations?— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) February 4, 2019
From The Post's Hamza Shaban:
It's like the 10-year challenge on Facebook but instead of an old picture of yourself it's comparing Mark Zuckerberg's Internet posts from 2003 and todayhttps://t.co/qOL24pbUdihttps://t.co/eSFU1fng67 pic.twitter.com/OaJKu7l99V— Hamza Shaban (@hshaban) February 4, 2019
— The workplace messaging firm Slack Technologies confidentially filed paperwork for a direct listing on the stock market, the Wall Street Journal's Maureen Farrell reported. The filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission didn't mention pricing information. “In a direct listing, the stock goes on a public market without the company raising any money for itself, unlike a typical IPO,” the Journal noted. “The approach can save companies hefty underwriting fees associated with traditional offerings and avoid restrictions on when insiders can sell shares.”
— Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said the company will work to better protect users from self-harm imagery following the death of British teenager Molly Russell, the Guardian's Alex Hern reported. Mosseri said the company will use “sensitivity screens” to blur self-harm images until users indicate they want to see the content. The parents of the teenager think she took her life after seeing self-harm and suicide imagery on Instagram and Pinterest, the Guardian reported.
“We are not yet where we need to be on the issues of suicide and self-harm,” Mosseri wrote in an op-ed for the Telegraph. “We need to do everything we can to keep the most vulnerable people who use our platform safe. To be very clear, we do not allow posts that promote or encourage suicide or self-harm.”
— More technology news from the private sector:
— House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) reintroduced a bill aiming to give the Federal Communications Commission power to curb “abusive” robo-call practices, according to a news release from the committee. “Americans are fed up with robocalls,” Pallone said in a statement. “It is incredibly annoying to repeatedly get unwanted calls from people you don’t know and don’t want to talk to.” The committee's news release also cited reporting from The Post indicating that about 26.3 billion robo-calls were placed to U.S. phone numbers in 2018.
— Lawmakers, companies and labor groups in California are set to debate whether to restrict or codify a court ruling limiting companies' ability to classify workers as independent contractors, the San Francisco Chronicle's Carolyn Said reported. The ruling, which California's Supreme Court issued in April in a case involving a company called Dynamex, could have broad implications for gig economy firms as well as other traditional areas of the economy. “Unions want Dynamex to be enshrined as state law; companies do not,” according to the Chronicle. “So far Dynamex has not resulted in any large-scale reclassification, although it has been cited as precedent in a few legal cases.”
— More technology news from the public sector:
— Amazon has named Rosalind Brewer, a prominent black female executive, to the company's all-white board of directors as businesses face more pressure to diversify their boards, USA Today's Jessica Guynn reported. Brewer is chief operating officer and director of Starbucks. “Amazon previously had one black board member: Myrtle Potter, former president and COO of Genentech, who was appointed in 2004 and stepped down in 2009,” according to USA Today.
— More news about tech workforce and culture:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
— Today in funding news:
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event titled “China's Digital Silk Road.”
- The New America think tank holds a discussion on “the future of spectrum auctions and 5G.”
- CompTIA DC Fly-In technology conference in Washington through tomorrow.
- Senate Commerce Committee hearing on 5G and technology innovation tomorrow.
- House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology hearing on the consequences of the repeal of net neutrality rules on Thursday.
- The Brookings Institution holds a panel discussion titled “Smart cities and artificial intelligence” on Feb. 11.
Does it matter if the wall is called a “wangdoodle” or a fence?
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