Protocol | Policy

Software companies seek AI law before Congress goes it alone

A trade group for AWS, Microsoft and other companies wants a seat at the table as lawmakers look to tackle bias in artificial intelligence.

Software companies seek AI law before Congress goes it alone

The group is trying to stay ahead of tech regulators who have begun deciding how to rein in the algorithms on which many of the companies are basing their futures.

Photo: Brian Keith Lorraine/Getty Images

A major tech group representing companies such as AWS, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle is calling for Congress to enact legislation that would require companies to assess and minimize bias in "high-risk" uses of artificial intelligence.

The group, known as the BSA or The Software Alliance, made its plea on Tuesday alongside a new report on identifying and lessening bias in AI that urges organizations to look at potential bias in project conception, historical data, processing information and deployment, as well as assess human oversight and the structure of compliance systems. The group is trying to stay ahead of tech regulators who have begun deciding how to rein in the algorithms on which many of the companies are basing their futures.

The BSA cites health care, finance and transportation as areas "where the severity and/or likelihood of potential harm is high," but its definition of risk for a particular AI system revolves around potential impact, purpose, level of human oversight and training data in a way that lawmakers across the world have signaled they might find too vague.

Regulators are already starting to target AI. In April, the European Commission proposed impact assessments, human oversight and quality verification for high-risk systems used in employment, immigration, education, law enforcement and facial recognition, among others. Earlier this month, King County, Washington — which includes Seattle and Microsoft's headquarters — became the latest municipal region to ban almost all government uses of facial recognition, following in the footsteps of several other cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Congress, too, is considering action.

The potential regulatory clampdown, and the memory of how other rules relating to technology have spread, were important reasons for the BSA to urge lawmakers to act and to seek a seat at the bargaining table, the trade group said.

"Certainly, those lessons loomed largely in our world," said Christian Troncoso, a senior director for policy at BSA, who helped spearhead what he described as a nearly yearlong project to develop the accompanying report. "I think there's just an acknowledgement within our industry and among our member companies that good regulation can only really arise if there is a good faith effort by us to contribute to the process."

The BSA, formerly known as the Business Software Alliance, is already working to pass a federal privacy law that would overrule state statutes, including the strict California Consumer Privacy Act, in the hopes of easing member companies' compliance obligations, particularly as other states pass their own laws. Proponents of state privacy laws have said they're often stronger than what Congress can produce, but the industry dreads the idea of another state-by-state or country-by-country regulatory "patchwork," such as the pile of laws that exist on data breach notifications.

"Our hope is that if we can work with everyone, we're going to arrive at a place where there's more of a harmonized approach on these issues," Troncoso said. "We want to just ensure that all of these processes are informed by our member companies' experience developing the technologies."

'Drumbeat of stories'

Companies spend plenty of their lobbying time trying to block new laws and regulations outright, but when lawmakers and agencies become determined to act, firms and their trade groups often sit down to negotiate narrower or more workable rules. Although tech companies lobbied on CCPA, for instance, the sector has long felt that, thanks to a groundswell of public support, it passed too quickly for the industry to get much of what it wanted. The efforts to participate themselves can also become good PR, or a way to bend laws and regulations toward particular competitors.

While the BSA broadly endorses the idea of legislation, the group doesn't mention a specific bill in Congress. In the last Congress, Sens. Ron Wyden and Cory Booker put forth a bill similar to the BSA's current ask, which would require companies to perform similar assessments, including looking at AI systems for fairness, accuracy and their impact on privacy and security.

At the moment, legislators, regulators, civil rights groups and even other companies worry about an array of examples, from photo cropping to false arrest, where AI systems reproduced or exacerbated discrimination against people on the basis of race, origin, religion, sex, disability and other factors.

"The report itself I think was prompted by the general anxiety and steady drumbeat of stories that have emerged in recent years that have understandably shaken public confidence," Troncoso said.

For instance, in its report, the BSA cited research that examined whether Mac and PC ownership can predict the ability to repay a loan — but device brand ownership appears correlated with race, meaning AI systems including this factor would introduce "a significant risk of" bias. The concerns are particularly acute when AI systems make decisions about law enforcement, financial products, housing, education, health care and other domains that are crucial to full, equitable participation in society and that have long suffered from deep and often deadly discrimination.

Troncoso says that the BSA's framework can go a long way to mitigating these harms for organizations looking to begin assessments, and that it can provide a basis for the legislation the group is seeking.

The group, though, hasn't developed specific legislative text or a preferred method of enforcement in the law, Troncoso said, and won't be able to "foist" any quick solutions on Congress. He added the work could take years, and that the BSA will be seated beside lawmakers and groups that would like to see a strict approach to the industry.

"We don't profess to have all of the answers for what a legislative framework should look like," he said. "The only way that legislation is going to work is if organizations like ours partner with the range of stakeholders that have equities in this debate."

Google’s latest plans for Chromecast are all about free TV

The company is in talks to add dozens of free linear channels to its newest streaming dongle.

Google launched its new Google TV service a year ago. Now, the company wants to add free TV channels to it.

Photo: Google

Google is looking to make its Chromecast streaming device more appealing to cord cutters. The company has plans to add free TV channels to Google TV, the Android-based smart TV platform that powers Chromecast as well as select smart TVs from companies including Sony and TCL, Protocol has learned.

To achieve this, Google has held talks with companies distributing so-called FAST (free, ad-supported streaming television) channels, according to multiple industry insiders. These channels have the look and feel of traditional linear TV networks, complete with ad breaks and on-screen graphics. Free streaming channels could launch on Google TV as early as this fall, but the company may also wait to announce the initiative in conjunction with its smart TV partners in early 2022.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

While it's easy to get lost in the operational and technical side of a transaction, it's important to remember the third component of a payment. That is, the human behind the screen.

Over the last two years, many retailers have seen the benefit of investing in new, flexible payments. Ones that reflect the changing lifestyles of younger spenders, who are increasingly holding onto their cash — despite reports to the contrary. This means it's more important than ever for merchants to take note of the latest payment innovations so they can tap into the savings of the COVID-19 generation.

Keep Reading Show less
Antoine Nougue,

Antoine Nougue is Head of Europe at He works with ambitious enterprise businesses to help them scale and grow their operations through payment processing services. He is responsible for leading the European sales, customer success, engineering & implementation teams and is based out of London, U.K.

Protocol | Policy

Iris scans for food in Jordanian refugee camps

More than 80% of the refugees in Jordanian camps now use iris scans to pay for their groceries. Refugee advocates say this is a huge future privacy problem.

A refugee uses their iris to access their account.

Photo: KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP via Getty Images

Every day, tens of thousands of refugees in the two main camps in Jordan pay for their groceries and withdraw their cash not with a card, but with a scan of their eye.

Nowhere in the United States can someone pay for groceries with an iris scan (though the Department of Homeland Security is considering collecting iris scans from U.S. immigrants, and Clear uses iris scans to verify identities for paying customers at airports) — but in the Jordanian refugee camps, biometric scanners are an everyday sight at grocery stores and ATMs. More than 80% of the 33,000-plus refugees who receive cash assistance and (most of them Syrian) and live in these camps use the United Nations' Refugee Agency iris-scanning system, which verifies identity through eye scans in order to distribute cash and food refugee assistance. Refugees can opt out of the program, but verifying identity without it is so complex that most do not.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email:, where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Protocol | China

Weibo is muzzling users for discussing a landmark #metoo case

A number of accounts have been suspended, even deleted, after voicing support for the plaintiff.

Photo: Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

As a Beijing court dismissed China's landmark sexual harassment case on Tuesday, Weibo censors acted to muzzle a number of accounts that voiced support for the accuser, or even simply discussed the trial beforehand.

In 2018, the plaintiff Zhou Xiaoxuan, better known by the nickname Xianzi, filed a high-profile #MeToo case against Zhu Jun, a renowned state broadcast show host. Zhou claimed that Zhu sexually harassed her while she was an intern on Zhu's show in 2014. Chinese web users have closely followed the civil suit, which has also drawn international media attention.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. She can be reached at

Protocol | Enterprise

Take that, Slack: ServiceNow gets a little closer to Microsoft Teams

ServiceNow is expanding its decade-long partnership with Microsoft as both companies intensify their rivalry with Salesforce.

Microsoft and ServiceNow's "coopetition" is aimed at a higher goal: undermining Salesforce, which is fast becoming the main rival for both vendors.

Photo: Uwe Anspach/Getty Images

For ServiceNow, Microsoft is the lesser of two evils compared to Salesforce.

After ditching Slack for Teams following the Salesforce acquisition, ServiceNow is deepening its decade-long partnership with Microsoft, promising co-development of new products and fresh integration capabilities within Teams, it plans to announce Thursday.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or

Latest Stories