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The Technology 202: Ivanka Trump avoids ruffling feathers in CES speech on retraining blue collar workers

with Tonya Riley

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LAS VEGAS -- Ivanka Trump's reception at the world's largest technology conference was icy. But the reaction to her speech about the future of work, which entirely avoided ruffling any feathers, was much more muted than expected. 

Even though President Trump's daughter and adviser sparked #boycottCES hashtags on Twitter, there was polite applause in the room as she concluded her 40-minute keynote largely without interruption.

She struck a friendly tone with the tech industry throughout the address -- touting her meetings and conversations with chief executives including Salesforce's Marc Benioff (who was in attendance) and IBM's Ginni Rometty -- while making a pitch for programs that would help blue collar workers keep pace with a rapidly evolving economy. 

Trump's focus on the administration's efforts to create apprenticeships and retraining in sectors such as manufacturing stood in stark relief with the futuristic tone of the conference known for outlandish robots and self-driving cars. 

“It’s not only about training for the jobs of the future,” Trump said. “People need to be thinking about investing in their current workforce so they can enable those people to do their same job using different equipment tomorrow.”

While Trump largely steered clear of her father's more controversial social policies that are deeply unpopular in Silicon Valley, her call on industry not to leave American workers behind echoed the economic message the president is crafting ahead of the 2020 elections. 

At a conference where all eyes are on the next big thing, it's notable Trump sought to make the conversation more inclusive of factory workers, truck drivers and other blue collar workers that her father has tried to appeal to.  

“It is our responsibility as we think about this country and the health of all Americans to be anticipating where there will be disruption, whether it’s long-term or short-term, and coming up with a plan to help transition those people,” she said.

Trump wants to see a shift away from hiring workers based on degrees and a greater focus on skills. She said the administration will launch an ad campaign in the coming weeks to highlight pathways to the workforce other than four-year college. She touted the Trump administration’s investments to create apprenticeships in sectors that have not traditionally supported such training. She’s hopeful sectors such as cybersecurity and tech support could look to fields like construction as a model. 

“It is not part of the American DNA outside of the skills trades, and we want to change that,” she said. 

But some here were skeptical about Trump's promises to help workers. Liz Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said the Trump administration has been "somewhat quiet" on issues surrounding the future of work, and Ivanka Trump's CES appearance appeared to be a new focus. "Overall the Trump administration's record has been a record that has not been standing up for working people," Shuler told me in an interview. 

"She's also trying to show investing in training, education and upskilling is one way of dealing with the impacts of disruption we're going to be seeing, and we would agree with that, but at the same time it's not a silver bullet," she added. "We keep thinking we're going to just train people and that's going to solve the problem -- not so much. You can train people all day long, but if they don't have good jobs at the end of that training, they're not going to be able to make a living and support their families." 

Trump did not acknowledge any of the backlash over her appearance at CES in her speech, particularly from women in the industry who had long pushed for more female keynotes but were disappointed Trump was chosen. These critics said there were women who had more technical qualifications to speak at the conference. 

But she did briefly address one of the most contentious issues between the technology industry and the White House -- high-skilled immigration-- when fielding a question from Consumer Technology Association president and chief executive Gary Shapiro. She said that her father believes that the system is in desperate need of reform and that it's "insane" that the U.S. draws people around the world for college, and then kicks them out as they're about to start working or launch businesses. 

She did not specifically address H-1B visas or the administration's push to end a visa program for entrepreneurs. 


BITS: A top Facebook executive today is testifying in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the company's efforts to detect manipulated media days after the company released a new policy banning computer-generated videos known as deepfakes. But expect a cool reception on Capitol Hill: Many Democrats have already said the ban — which did not appear to target less-sophisticated forms of video editing -- doesn't go far enough. 

Facebook executive Monika Bickert will reassure lawmakers that Facebook is working diligently to address media manipulation on its own, according to prepared testimony

Bickert will advocate for the industry to push for common standards on manipulated media to prevent it from migrating between platforms. She'll probably find agreement with academics on the panel, who have called for similar measures.

But Joan Donovan, another witness at today's hearing, said in an interview that the government should be involved in setting those standards. The director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center says self-regulation such as Facebook's policy on deepfakes is unlikely to make a significant dent in the growing disinformation economy, she says.

Donovan will also warn lawmakers that deepfakes and other false content come at a significant financial cost to consumers and businesses, even though most of the attention has been on the political ramifications. She'll tell Congress that the multimillion-dollar economy of misinformation is a threat to national security — and tech companies are profiting off it. 

“We still need to do a lot more research on the true cost of misinformation,” Donovan said in an interview. “Law enforcement, health- care providers have to do with the fallout. It's one industry that's impacting many others." 

Tristan Harris, who is executive director at the Center for Humane Technology, with law professor Justin Hurwitz will shed light on the dangers of “dark patterns,” or the design choices tech companies make to surreptitiously influence user behavior. Legislation introduced last year that would prohibit companies from experimenting on consumer behavior without their consent netted two new co-sponsors yesterday, signaling there’s growing interest in Congress on the matter. 

NIBBLES: “Privacy washing” is the hottest trend at CES, my colleague Geoffrey A. Fowler writes. But he warns consumers shouldn’t believe the hype around Apple, Amazon and Facebook’s privacy push at the conference.  

Apple appeared at the conference for the first time in decades, appearing on an industry panel focused on privacy. Last year, the company ran a billboard at the event, touting “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.” During an audience Q&A, Fowler pressed the company on what it’s doing to make that promise true, especially after his investigation last year found iPhone apps were sharing his personal data with tracking companies without his knowledge.

Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director of global privacy, responded with little substance. "We’re constantly innovating, including in operating process,” she told Geoff.

Geoffrey writes this exchange sums up the tech industry’s trust problem: “Lots of the companies that have gotten wealthy from selling us data-collecting devices — or from collecting our data — have learned to talk the talk on privacy. But they’re very often defining privacy in ways that serve their own interests first.”

It’s a positive step that tech companies are talking about privacy at all, Fowler writes, but he is concerned about their tactic of marketing control and transparency for consumers, while still continuing to suck up data.  

BYTES: A longtime Facebook executive told employees that Facebook shouldn't change its advertising policies to tip the election against President Trump, according to nearly 3,000-word internal memo obtained by Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac at the New York Times. Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, compared the choice to the moral dilemma faced by a character in the fantasy series "The Lord of the Rings" and cited philosopher John Rawls. 

“I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result,” he wrote. “So what stays my hand? I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment … As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”

Trump's strategic use of the platform, not “Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica” gave Trump an edge, Bosworth argued. Bosworth called Cambridge Analytica “pure snake oil and we knew it.” 

“He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period,” Bosworth wrote.

The screed was well received by Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale, who used it to slam the media.

Dozens of employees responded, pushing back against Bosworth's ideas, the Times reports. While Bosworth is not directly in charge of advertising policies, the memo highlights the ongoing debate inside Facebook about the company's advertising policies. 

The post “wasn’t written for public consumption,” but Bosworth “hoped this post would encourage my co-workers to continue to accept criticism with grace as we accept the responsibility we have overseeing our platform,” he said in a statement to the Times.


— News from the private sector:

Sonos sues Google for allegedly swiping speaker tech (Greg Bensinger)

New Tactics Punch Holes in Big Tech’s Ad-Fraud Defenses (The Wall Street Journal)

Amazon Doubles Down on Ring Partnerships With Law Enforcement (Wired)


— The Aspen Tech Policy Hub announced today that it is partnering with the Cybercrime Support Network (CSN) to develop a reporting system that will help government agencies and law enforcement more easily take down online fraudsters. CSN, which has received funding from the Department of Homeland Security, will build off a prototype developed by Aspen Tech Policy fellows this summer that makes it easier to report social media fraud than current systems and is more accessible to the elderly, who are most vulnerable to online scams.

— More news from the public sector:

Push for global digital tax agreement stalls amid tensions (Politico Europe)

Amazon struggles to enforce its own rules for political ads (CNBC)

New York Is Proposing the Creation of a ‘Public Venmo’ (Vice)


Major union launches campaign to organize video game and tech workers (The Los Angeles Times)


—  Tech news generating buzz around the Web:

Authorities look for source of mysterious Midwest drone sightings (USA Today)

The “Star Wars” Misinformation Hell Is The New Future Of Everything (BuzzFeed News)


— Today

  • CES continues through Friday in Las Vegas.
  • The Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce of the House Energy Committee will hold a hearing, “Americans at Risk: Manipulation and Deception in the Digital Age,” at 10:30 a.m.

— Coming up:

  • Silicon Flatirons will host its "Technology Optimism and Pessimism" conference Feb. 9 and 10 at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder, Colorado.  Speakers include FCC Michael O'Rielly and FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra.
  • Mobile World Congress takes place Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona.


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