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SAN FRANCISCO -- President Trump's call for "6G" immediately became a punchline in Silicon Valley, where tech and telecom workers are just starting to prepare for the still-nascent 5G wireless technology.
Trump's Thursday tweet sought to pressure companies to step up their investment in 5G as his administration released a report touting its work to facilitate its expansion. But floating the idea of 6G –- a technology that does not yet exist -- instead added to the perception that Trump does not understand basic tech policy issues.
I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible. It is far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard. American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind. There is no reason that we should be lagging behind on.........— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2019
....something that is so obviously the future. I want the United States to win through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies. We must always be the leader in everything we do, especially when it comes to the very exciting world of technology!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2019
The two-part missive sparked immediate dismissal in the tech community.
“I did not realize that pot was legal in DC because the president is smoking some good stuff if he has access to 6G,” said Venky Ganesan, a partner at Menlo Ventures.
And a round of jeers on Twitter:
It's like a Disney adventure in telecomm backbone in the President's twitter feed this morning.— emptywheel (@emptywheel) February 21, 2019
6G will run on coal I assume.— Mr. Fun Guy (@Mister_Fun_Guy) February 21, 2019
From Recode co-founder and former Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg:
It’s great that @Samsung is promising a 5G phone. Unfortunately, the President of the United States just demanded “6G” in a tweet. And he’s a stable genius. So...sorry, Samsung.— Walt Mossberg (@waltmossberg) February 21, 2019
From writer Karl Bode:
6G isn't a thing. 5G is barely a thing. And it's not a race. There's no way to measure winners in said race anyway since our broadband maps intentionally suck. https://t.co/FlHHgigp9Z— Karl Bode (@KarlBode) February 21, 2019
The technology industry would likely welcome extra pressure from the White House to more quickly deploy 5G — which is expected to bring significantly faster speeds and greater bandwidth that could enable a host of new businesses.
But the tweet represented a missed opportunity for the Trump administration as the Office of Science and Technology Policy rolled out its 2018 highlights report.
5G and rural connectivity was the first policy issue mentioned in the report, and it highlighted the efforts Trump took to develop a long-term spectrum strategy and to promote public and private sector collaboration to advance the country’s 5G strategy.
If Trump had focused on raising public awareness of 5G instead, the technology industry may have been applauding him. While only a handful of technology companies and venture capitalists are investing directly in 5G, Silicon Valley companies are heavily investing in technologies like augmented reality or artificial intelligence that 5G could bolster. The deployment of 5G — which is not expected to be completed for at least the next five years — could make it possible for those technologies to work more effectively anywhere.
“I think 5G rollout will happen and I think will be a net positive for consumers and carriers,” Ganesan told me.
5G is emerging as a key technology priority for the White House amid fears of competition with China. Trump tweeted about the issue as the administration resumed trade negotiations with China on Thursday. Though Trump does not mention China or Chinese companies such as Huawei that are investing in 5G directly, his comments about the U.S. needing to win come as lawmakers increasingly become concerned that China will reap economic benefits if it deploys 5G more quickly.
There's also concerns about the surveillance capabilities China would gain if Chinese companies were to supply the equipment that underlies the 5G network. Trump has considered an executive order aimed at securing telecommunications networks, which would effectively block providers like Huawei.
In his State of the Union address, Trump touted the “industries of the future,” which the administration later clarified included 5G. The White House is highlighting its efforts on 5G as Congress is increasingly exploring ways to help industry more quickly roll out 5G networks, such as by making more mid-band spectrum available.
5G is a wonky topic, and the president is in a unique position to raise public awareness about the issue. As my colleague Brian Fung noted, searches for 6G spiked following Trump’s tweets. Brian found that experts have no consensus because no one knows yet what 6G will look like.
Trump’s remarks on 5G are just the latest in a long litany of seemingly obtuse comments about technology. His tweet that he knows technology “better than anyone” as he fought with Democrats over border security was also widely teased by techies on social media. His history of such comments dates back before his presidency, to the 2016 presidential debate when he said a 400-pound hacker might be responsible for the hack of the Democratic National Committee, despite the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence committee that it was Russia.
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BITS: Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked the Federal Trade Commission to examine a complaint from advocacy groups that Facebook "scammed children into spending money," Reuters reported. “We urge the FTC to review in detail the complaint that was filed today on this issue. It shouldn’t take another settlement for Facebook to meet its ethical obligation to protect kids and families on its platform,” the senators said in a statement.
More than a dozen advocacy groups urged the FTC in a complaint to investigate Facebook following reports that the social network let children spend their parents' money on games — sometimes unknowingly, Reveal's Nathan Halverson reported. “There is no benefit to consumers here — not to the parents being charged without permission, nor to the kids who do not realize the digital ‘sword’ they click on in a game costs actual money,” the complaint said. “The only benefits accrue to Facebook and the developers who have designed a system to dupe children and take their families’ money.”
The groups that filed the complaint, which include Common Sense Media, the Center for Digital Democracy and the Center for a Commercial Free Childhood, said the FTC should probe whether the company “has engaged in unfair or deceptive practices.” Reveal reported last month that Facebook employees told the company that it was duping children out of money but the tech giant disregarded the warnings. “Facebook has a moral obligation to change its culture toward practices that foster the well-being of kids and families, and the FTC should ensure Facebook is acting responsibly,” Jim Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, said in a statement.
NIBBLES: The Trump administration is forging ahead with a plan to stop granting work permits to the spouses of many high-skilled visa holders, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Tal Kopan. Technology companies heavily rely on these visas to recruit engineers from around the world, and the move could impact tens of thousands of immigrant families in California alone.
"Many of those workers come to the U.S. with spouses and children, and the loss of the spousal work permits could imperil families’ ability to stay in the country or deter workers from accepting jobs here to begin with," Kopan reported.
The proposed regulation was sent to the White House for review, according to a government database. "That procedural step means that the Department of Homeland Security has completed its work on the policy," Kopan reported. "The White House will now put the regulation through review with other agencies, a process that can take anywhere from days to months, depending on the regulation’s complexity."
BYTES: Google wants to make it easier for people to get rid of unneeded medication in an effort to help curb the opioid crisis. The Silicon Valley giant announced a pilot program to display 3,500 locations across the country via its Maps and Search tools where people can safely dispose of medication they no longer need. For instance, searching for “drug drop off near me” or “medication disposal near me” will bring up places where medication can be dropped off such as pharmacies or government buildings, Dane Glasglow, vice president of product for Google Maps, said in a blog post.
“By bringing opioid disposal site information to Google Maps, Americans are only a search away from helping to address the opioid crisis,” Ed Simcox, chief technology officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, which partnered with Google on the effort, said in a statement. “This type of consumer empowerment--providing easily accessible data--is the kind of innovation needed to improve healthcare.” Google also collaborated with federal agencies, seven state governments as well as Walgreens and CVS Health on the initiative. The company said it plans to expand the project in coming months.
— YouTube removed comments on tens of millions of videos following a report of material sexually exploiting children on the site, The Washington Post’s Hamza Shaban reported. The company also terminated more than 400 channels that had posted the comments. “Any content — including comments — that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube,” YouTube spokeswoman Andrea Faville said in a statement, according to my colleague. “We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos that include minors. There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.”
— More technology news from the private sector:
-- Microsoft is backing legislation in Washington state that would require notices to inform people in public spaces when facial-recognition technology is being used, Wired's Tom Simonite reported. Under the bill, which is sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, government agencies would have to obtain a court order to monitor specific people in a public setting except in certain emergencies. Wired noted that provisions about facial recognition in the bill are similar to Microsoft President Brad Smith's proposals on the matter. (I wrote about Smith's call for regulating facial recognition in December.)
The company is also opposing another bill in Washington state that was drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union and would place a moratorium on the use of facial recognition. The bill “would ban local and state governments from using facial recognition until certain conditions are met, including a report by the state attorney general certifying that systems in use are equally accurate for people of differing races, skin tones, ethnicities, genders, or age,” according to Wired.
— All the Democratic candidates running for president in 2020 committed not to knowingly use hacked material surfacing online that might have been obtained illegally but President Trump’s campaign declined to make any pledge, the Daily Beast’s Sam Stein, Jackie Kucinich and Scott Bixby reported. An aide to Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks chief executive who has weighed running as an Independent, also said his campaign would make the same commitment if he were to run.
— Political campaigns purchase users' location information from data brokers in order to better target voters with online advertisements, the Los Angeles Times's Evan Halper reported. “As a result, if you have been to a political rally, a town hall, or just fit a demographic a campaign is after, chances are good your movements are being tracked with unnerving accuracy by data vendors on the payroll of campaigns,” Halper wrote. However, campaigns do not match this personal data with voters' names but use it to push ads on online platforms such as Facebook.
— French Digital Minister Mounir Mahjoubi said France may consider a law that would create fines for online platforms that don't quickly remove racist or violent material, Bloomberg News's Gregory Viscusi reported. “There will be an obligation for results: if the content is not taken down then there will be a fine, and a large fine,” Mahjoubi told France Info radio. “Each minute that content remains online, it increases the harm to society. Twenty-four hours is far too long.”
— More technology news from the public sector:
— Google will end forced arbitration for its employees starting on March 21 following protests by the company's workforce against the practice, TechCrunch's Megan Rose Dickey reported. Google will also stop mandating arbitration for contractors that the company works with directly but “it won’t require outside firms that employ contractors to do the same,” according to TechCrunch. Google had previously ended forced arbitration in cases of allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
— More news about tech workforce and culture:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
— News about tech incidents and blunders:
— Today in funding news:
- NetChoice, a trade association of e-commerce businesses, hosts a panel on free speech online on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 26.
- Senate Commerce Committee hearing on “policy principles for a federal data privacy framework” on Feb. 27.
- The Cato Institute holds a conference titled “Who’s afraid of Big Tech?” on March 1.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on “digital governance and the pursuit of technological leadership” on March 4.
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