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Welcome to the Tuesday edition of Internet Insider, where we dissect tech and politics unfolding online. Today:
- Nearly 60,000 people call on Apple to stop plan to scan iPhones
- Anonymous hacks Texas GOP website, floods it with memes
- Biden chooses outspoken critic of facial recognition to join FTC
BREAK THE INTERNET
Nearly 60,000 people call on Apple to stop plan to scan iPhones
Nearly 60,000 people signed online petitions to oppose Apple’s controversial plan to scan iPhones for child sexual abuse material, digital rights groups said on Wednesday.
While Apple announced last week that it would press pause on its plans, the petitions demand that the tech giant go further and completely abandon it.
Apple’s plan, which drew immediate pushback from digital rights groups and privacy organizations, would scan users photos and messages for child sexual abuse material and sexually explicit material.
Since Apple’s announcement about its plan, concerns about the implications of the technology—from how it could be used in the future to how it could impact children who don’t have good relationships with their parents—were raised.
Digital rights groups including Fight for the Future and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently held a press conference where they unveiled the petitions they have collected from users opposed to the plan and explained their concerns further. Overall, 59,796 petitions were delivered to Apple, the groups said.
“If Apple moves forward with this plan, it will have massive consequences,” Caitlin Seeley George, a campaign director at Fight for the Future, said. “Not only on the phones of millions of people, but on everyone’s ability to communicate without being under surveillance. While Apple might have postponed the rollout of this software, we want to be perfectly clear: There is no safe way to do what they are proposing.”
Bruce Schneier, a security technologist, echoed concerns that have been raised about the implications the technology could have in the future.
“Once you embed this system into a phone, there’s absolutely nothing except the goodwill of people to stop the government of China from putting what they consider to be prohibited content into the system. The system exists. There’s nothing special about the images Apple wants to detect versus the ones they don’t,” Schneier said, adding: “You build the system, and it can be used for anything. You can target other content, you can target people.”
— Andrew Wyrich, deputy tech editor
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Anonymous hacks Texas GOP website, floods it with memes
The Republican Party of Texas’ official website appeared to be hacked by Anonymous on Saturday morning. The website was later taken down.
After Texas’ restrictive abortion law went into effect on Sept. 1, Anonymous launched Operation Jane, an initiative targeting anyone attempting to enforce the law. The group followed through on its mission by hacking the Texas GOP website.
The homepage on texasgop.org showed “ANONYMOUS IS LEGION.” Under it, “Texas: Taking Voices from Women to promote theocratic erosion of church/state barriers.” The website was complete with a donation link to Planned Parenthood. The website’s menu was changed from its typical sections to “YourAnonNews,” “Operation Jane,” “Planned Parenthood,” and “Mudkip (Pokemon).”
The hacked website also included a link to the Zodiac Killer Wikipedia page—in reference to the meme claiming that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is the Zodiac Killer—and a classic Rickroll.
In a statement to the Daily Dot, Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi said the organization would be increasing security on the site.
Anonymous is known to hack websites to make statements in support of its beliefs. As a part of Operation Jane, the organization also urged Twitter users to spike traffic to the Texas Right to Life website in order to thwart its performance.
—Carly Novell, contributing writer
Biden chooses outspoken critic of facial recognition to join FTC
President Joe Biden is planning to nominate a critic of surveillance technology to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Sources told the Washington Post that Biden will tap Alvaro Bedoya, a professor at Georgetown Law and founding director of the law school’s Center on Privacy & Technology. The story was also confirmed by Axios.
Bedoya has criticized the use of facial recognition technology in law enforcement, investigating how police and the Department of Homeland Security use the controversial technology, in ways that he says violate Americans’ privacy.
Some interpreted Biden’s choice to nominate Bedoya to the FTC as a signal that a crackdown is coming for big tech companies. The president has faced increasing pressure to ban facial recognition in recent months.
Biden previously nominated another big tech critic, Lina Khan, to the FTC. After she was approved by Congress, Biden tapped her to be chair, setting his FTC up for a showdown with big tech.
—Grace Ferguson, editorial intern
Editor’s Note: Biden made the nomination of Bedoya official on Monday evening.