STLR Link Roundup – October 18, 2019

Apple Removes App that Helps Hong Kong Protesters Track the Police

On October 9th, Apple removed the app “” from the app store in response to criticism from Chinese media stating that the app allowed protestors in Hong Kong to track the police. Apple CEO Tim Cook commented on the removal, claiming that “the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence,” and thus violated Apple rules and local laws. Mr. Cook further explained that although he disagreed with some Chinese policies, he could not decide the laws for the country, and therefore Apple was required to comply with their laws. On the other hand, the developer of the app claimed that the app was not encouraging criminal activity; rather, it helped Hong Kong residents avoid areas of conflict between police and protestors. Democratic lawmakers in Hong Kong have contacted Mr. Cook to let him know helpful the app actually was. The app’s removal has become a legal dilemma involving not only local Chinese laws, but also Apple’s commitment to basic human rights and the question of whether this decision constitutes complicity in Chinese censorship and oppression.

TikTok Taps Corporate Law Firm K&L Gates to Advise on its US Content Moderation Policies

TikTok has begun to work with a group from K&L Gates to deal with issues on the app concerning censorship, child safety, hate speech, and misinformation. This partnership was formed in response to increasing criticism about censorship on the app, particularly related to the Honk Kong protests; however, TikTok appears focused on fixing censorship within the U.S. Critics have pointed out that U.S. censorship is not the problem, since TikTok has allowed hashtags such as #dumptrump or #blacklivesmatter, both of which are political statements. In reality, this legal partnership is likely in response to the app’s fine of $5.7 million for violating the children’s privacy law (COPPA). Irrespective of this coincidental timing, TikTok continues to claim that they are trying to “figure out how a Chinese-owned app can participate in the democratic U.S. social media market, without becoming another mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.”

Giant Child Porn Site Busted as U.S. Follows Bitcoin Trail

On October 16th, U.S. and Korean unsealed an indictment against Jong Woo Son, a South Korean national charged with running one of the largest markets for child pornography on the Dark Web. The site accepted bitcoin as payment for sexually exploitative images and videos involving children. Authorities tracking the site have arrested over 300 users and have rescued at least 23 children who were being actively used to make illegal, sexually explicit videos. Though a major victory for authorities, this site is not the end of the problematic rise in the availability of child pornography and illicit activity on the Dark Web. The invention of cryptocurrency has exponentially increased the proliferation of child pornography, but as well as increased crimes such as narcotics trafficking and money laundering. Now that users can both access the deep web with anonymity and pay with anonymous cryptocurrency, it has become more difficult for authorities to track down and stop these violations. In response, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division has begun working on the ability to analyze blockchain and remove the barrier of anonymity in bitcoin transactions. This pervasive problem indicates that the issues with blockchain technology may be larger than originally anticipated.

Uber, Lyft May Face Greater Federal Oversight, Lawmaker Warns

There has been growing concern over the lack of regulatory oversight as increasingly popular ride-sharing apps have expanded in the United States. Representative Peter DeFazio warned that although apps like Uber and Lyft make it easier to travel, they also have created several problems such as “adding to traffic congestion and conducting woefully inadequate background checks for drivers that have put passenger safety at risk.” Uber’s alleged violations in particular include the avoidance of traditional transportation and labor regulations by hiding behind the label of a technology company, which are not subject to these same regulations. DeFazio noted that this problem has become large enough that U.S. lawmakers and the courts can no longer ignore it. A hearing has been held to determine the validity of some these concerns and violations. Although neither Uber nor Lyft sent representatives to testify at this hearing, DeFazio claims that it should “serve as a wake-up call to companies that have flooded our roadways with disruptive technology.” It very well may be that this is the beginning of a long and arduous legal process to enforce “public policy and regulatory oversight” in the field of technological transportation.

Berkeley Bans Government Face Recognition Use, Joining Other Cities

On October 15th, Berkeley, California became the fourth U.S. city to ban local government use of facial recognition technology. Other cities in California and Massachusetts have already implemented these bans in response to public criticism and concern. A California law already exists forbidding the use of facial recognition in law enforcement body cameras. The growing use of facial recognition technology has inspired over 30 organizations dedicated to preserving civil liberties, human rights, and privacy organizations to join the digital rights group “Fight for the Future” in its pursuit to ensure the protection of citizens and their digital privacy. On the other hand, a coalition of law enforcement agencies and technology companies have argued against the ban, theorizing that facial recognition benefits society by ensuring the safety of citizens through easier criminal identification. A more moderate coalition consisting of members within the technology, travel, and transportation industries have urged for a more balanced resolution. Rather than a blanket ban on facial recognition software, Congress should provide a consistent set of rules that will allow for appropriate measures to be taken. These rules will both allow law enforcement to continue doing their jobs effectively, while making sure the privacy right of citizens are not infringed upon.

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