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Move slow and contact trace

Image: CA Notify / Protocol
Contact Tracing

Good morning! This Tuesday, California gets its long-awaited exposure notification app, Googlers stand up for Timnit Gebru and Hollywood's mad at WarnerMedia.

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The Big Story

Tech bemoans the exposure notification slow walk

California's finally getting an exposure notification app. All it took was eight months, multiple lockdowns, 1.37 million cases, and nearly 20,000 deaths. The app is called CA Notify, and it's using the exposure notification tech developed by Google and Apple. It'll be available on Thursday.

  • Apple and Google have been working with the California government for months, Governor Gavin Newsom said, before taking great pains to tell people that CA Notify is an opt-in service. "Opt-in, not opt-out," he said. "Privacy protected. This is not contact tracing, this is notification technology." He went on like this for a while, but you get the idea.
  • "That's why we've been, frankly, a little stubborn," he said, "and kept our eyes wide open in terms of this technology. We didn't want to jump in, ready-fire-aim."

Privacy preservation is obviously crucial, particularly with such high-stakes personal and medical data, but lives have been at stake. The whole thing has been a case study in public-private partnerships: Tech wanting to move quickly; the government wanting to make sure every t gets crossed.

I've heard a number of tech execs express frustration that things haven't been able to move faster in such an important moment. There are no simple answers, but the tech works! And it's hard not to look at the fact that the initial CA Notify pilot started in September, before a second wave of cases hit the state (and the country).

  • Beyond that, haphazard launches with various health agencies really haven't worked. A few states' apps have gotten traction, but all have been slow to launch and certainly could have benefited from the marketing muscle of Google and Apple.
  • It doesn't help that everything about the pandemic has been so politicized, to the point where nobody trusts anybody.

I want to know what you think. Should things have moved faster? Or are the stakes high enough to warrant this (or even more) caution? Will you use CA Notify? Reply to this email with your thoughts, or send a note to david@protocol.com.

Google

'Dr. Gebru did not resign'

Anna Kramer writes: Google AI lead Jeff Dean is in hot water with members of Timnit Gebru's team at Google, who published a letter yesterday challenging his story about Gebru's resignation and calling the research paper review process discriminatory. Gebru's forced departure stemmed from conflict over a research paper about ethical questions for large-language models (which are a big research focus at Google Brain): Google wanted Gebru to take her name off the paper, Gebru threatened to resign, and then Google took that opportunity to remove her from the team.

The biggest revelation from the new letter is that almost half of all research papers submitted for approval through Google's internal process are done so with a day or less of notice to reviewers, despite Dean's claim that the process requires two weeks. He used that claim to justify why Google tried to force Gebru to retract or take her name off of the paper, and this letter seems to debunk that main defense.

  • The letter also states that Gebru was fired and did not actually resign, despite Dean's insistence on calling it a resignation in his email to the team. Her team has coined a new word for what happened: "resignated," according to her former colleague and co-lead Margaret Mitchell.

More than 1,500 Googlers signed a petition in support of Gebru and calling for changes to Google's paper review process, with signatories including senior engineers and team leaders.

  • Gebru's boss, Samy Bengio, said he was "stunned" at her firing in a Facebook post.
  • Others on her team and in the AI ethics community more broadly have written about their disappointment with Dean specifically, who has been a hero for many in the field. Google did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The pushback against Google and Dean specifically here has reached a pretty unprecedented level — and I try to avoid using the word unprecedented. Rather than dying out over the weekend, the anger has escalated. As a number of folks in the industry told me last week, the reputational damage for Google and Dean could be long-lasting: Research integrity is paramount in AI, and that integrity is a big question mark for anyone looking at Google research now.

Shoot me an email at akramer@protocol.com if you work at Google or in the AI ethics space and would like to talk, or if you'd like my Signal.

People Are Talking

In the world of online video, there's Before TikTok and After TikTok, a16z's Connie Chan said:

  • "In the future — and, increasingly, the present — video is no longer going to be something that we passively watch; it's going to be something that we do."

Ashton Kutcher said there needs to be an exception to the EU's privacy laws that lets tech companies fight child pornography:

  • "These are vital clues that help us identify these children and bring them to safety. If this interim legislation doesn't happen, those clues are gone. They're in the dark. Nobody can see them. We can't find those kids."

Want to get Peter Thiel's attention? Don't pitch your startup, DeepMind's Demis Hassabis said. Talk chess:

  • "I think the secret is that the bishop and knight are worth three points each but have such different powers. All the creative tension comes when you swap the bishop for the knight in certain positions. This intrigued him. He had never thought of that ... We secured our meeting."

The streaming wars are happening now and will end fast, said Discovery's David Zaslav:

  • "Within the next two years, it's going to be put up or shut up for all of us."

A MESSAGE FROM SYNCHRONY

SYNCHRONY

Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

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Making Moves

On Protocol: Ulrik Nehammer is leaving Salesforce. He was the company's Asia-Pacific CEO, and is leaving along with Stan Sugarman, Dan Bognar and Lee Hawksley as part of a big leadership revamp in the region.

SpaceX scored $885.5 million in FCC funding as part of a rural broadband program. Most of the other big winners are telcos, but this'll be a big boost for the Starlink project.

Dara Khosrowshahi is joining the board at Aurora. Uber's giving its autonomous-vehicle arm to Aurora (as expected), while also investing $400 million in exchange for roughly a quarter of the company.

Airbnb is launching a nonprofit, Airbnb.org, to help provide a place to stay for those in "housing emergencies." It codifies a program Airbnb has been developing all year.

In Other News

  • On Protocol: Lots of people are gunning for Google. But Colorado's attorney general Phil Weiser, who's prepared for this moment his whole life, might have the best shot.
  • Apple isn't done besting Intel yet. Bloomberg reports that successors to the M1 chip could come as soon as next year, with the aim to outperform Intel's best chips.
  • Activision Blizzard sued Netflix for hiring Spencer Neumann as its CFO. It says Netflix illegally recruited him and cost Activision business opportunities in the process.
  • WarnerMedia has really, really annoyed Hollywood. Its unilateral decision to put next year's movie slate directly on HBO Max has infuriated actors, directors, producers and agents — and opened the company up to lawsuits. The problem, some think, is Jason Kilar's lack of familiarity with the movie business.
  • Palantir won a three-year FDA contract, worth $44 million, to help handle data in the drug review process. Its shares jumped 21% on the news.
  • Those remote work cybersecurity concerns were real. The NSA said Russia has been trying to attack a vulnerability in VMware software, and urged administrators to patch the fault.
  • Australia finalized its plans to make Facebook and Google pay news publishers. The law will go before its parliament this week. Facebook, which has previously opposed the bill, said it will review the legislation and "engage through the upcoming parliamentary process."

One More Thing

Digital transformation strikes again

First technology came for the yellow pages. And I said nothing. Then it came for magazines, books, supermarket circulars and everything other than the Bed Bath & Beyond coupons that still show up in my mailbox. And I said nothing. Now tech has come for the Ikea catalog, the iconic tome that used to be printed 200 million times a year. What replaces it? An app, I guess. And that weird thing that lets you place a virtual couch in your living room. It just won't be the same.

A MESSAGE FROM SYNCHRONY

SYNCHRONY

Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

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