Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Sept. 8 2017 10:38 AM

Equifax’s Data Breach PR Statement, a Close Reading

On July 29 the credit reporting agency Equifax discovered that someone had accessed enormous amounts of the information that it held. This Thursday—more than a month later—Equifax released a statement announcing the breach and the company’s planned response.

As is so often the case with such statements, this is a shambolic text evincing collective and perhaps contentious authorship: Note, for example, the erratic spacing after periods, sometimes one, sometimes two. (In one case, the space seems to be missing altogether after a hyperlink.) In such details, we glimpse the outer edges of a hastily assembled response: Paragraphs bounced back and forth between divisions and departments over email, lawyers screaming at one another over the phone.

Given, however, that Equifax had more than a month to labor over these words, we also can and must read also read the statement as a carefully crafted object, a sort of prose poem for our troubled times.

The key to this challenging text’s style arrives in its opening paragraph. Having breezily introduced what happened (“a cybersecurity incident”) and to whom it happened (“approximately 143 million U.S. consumers”), our anonymous authors abruptly pull back from the scene of the crime. “The company has found no evidence of unauthorized activity on Equifax’s core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases,” they write. In this statement from Equifax itself, “the company” rings strange, somehow suggesting that Equifax is not an actor in its own drama.

More importantly, though, this phrase confronts us with a wan sort of bathos that seems almost satirical. Having outlined a breach so enormous as to border on the sublime, we are implicitly told that we need not worry after all. Never mind the very real threats of identity theft. No one has actually manipulated your credit rating, it seems to propose. Yes, unknown criminals almost certainly have information about you, oh reader, but, no, you need not fear.

The statement’s second paragraph comes hard and fast with the true details of the hack, almost immediately undermining the wan gesture of assurance that concludes the first. The information “primarily includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers.”

And yet, Equifax’s artistes erratically (but strategically) reintroduce notes of minimization, a deliberate arrhythmia of irony: Yes, more than 100 million Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses may have been compromised, but driver’s license numbers have only been accessed “in some instances.” This is a phrase whose power flows from its uncertainty. How many is some? Should I count myself among their number?

As in the fragmentary remnants of Sappho’s poetry, we recognize ourselves in these lines precisely because they are incomplete. The company has also, we learn, “identified unauthorized access to limited personal information for certain UK and Canadian residents.” (Italics mine.) These vague adjectives—“limited” and “certain”—suggest a kind of effortless shrug, especially in contrast to the hard and huge numbers that precede them. In the poetry of Equifax, what is large is always also small, the enormity of the situation not quite so enormous as one might fear.

This commitment to irony takes on a new form soon after as a single voice—that of Equifax CEO Richard F. Smith—begins to emerge from the corporate chorus. Smith almost, but never quite, acknowledges that the situation itself constitutes a reversal of expectations. “We pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting customer data,” says this man whose company has just made a mess of both of those tasks. Here, teetering on the brink of something like self-knowledge, Smith continues, “We also are focused on consumer protection and have developed a comprehensive portfolio of services to support all U.S. consumers.” We are obliged, he proposes, to trust him because he has failed us.

A fuller version of the statement that appears on PR Newswire further amplifies this dynamic interplay of trust and uncertainty. “These statements can be identified by expressions of belief, expectation or intention, as well as estimates and statements that are not historical fact,” it reads. In aggregate, “expressions,” “expectations,” and “estimates” add up to something more than the sum of their parts. Each admits to a degree of ignorance, but together they suggest a species of certainty. We know because we know so little, Equifax tells us, enacting a sort of auto-deconstruction that would make the French philosopher Jacques Derrida smile. A thing, this text repeatedly indicates, is inevitably evident in its opposite. History is always already shaped by the absence of “historical fact.”

Here, the ordinary logic of time grinds to a halt, every description of past action only ever an anticipation of what is to come. “Confronting cybersecurity risks is a daily fight,” CEO Smith declares near the end, eliding past failures and future struggles. “While we’ve made significant investments in data security, we recognize we must do more. And we will.”

We believe you, CEO Smith. And we don’t. As the text is written, so it demands.

Sept. 7 2017 3:04 PM

Netizen Report: Togo Government Shuts Down Internet, Texting as Protests Escalate

The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed El-Gohary, Leila Nachawati, Julie Owono, Nevin Thompson, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

new advox logo

Internet and mobile SMS fell into a total blackout in the West African nation of Togo on the morning of Sept. 7.

Anti-government protests have been surging as opposition leaders demand that President Faure Gnassingbé step down. On Sept. 5, users began reporting that mobile internet connections were spotty and that social media sites like Facebook were inaccessible altogether. By the morning of Sept. 7, the same researchers told Global Voices that all internet networks (mobile and fixed connections) were down, and that all mobile SMS and mobile money transactions were being blocked.

Network testing firm Dyn and West African digital rights group Internet Without Borders, which has members in Togo, verified these reports through technical tests.

In a broadcast by Togolese Victoires FM radio station, public service minister and government spokesperson Gilbert Bawara confirmed that the internet had been cut for security reasons. “Even in most developed countries, authorities take control of telecommunications in some cases,” he said.

Protesters’ primary objective is to prevent legislators from allowing President Gnassingbé, who has been in power since 2005, to run for another term. The president succeeded his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who held power for 38 years.

While the shutdown has made it difficult for Togolese demonstrators to report what they’re seeing on social media, blogger Farida Nabourema was sending tweets from the Togo-Ghana border, where she reported that she was able to get a signal.

The shutdowns violate international human rights protections for free expression and access to information and contravene a 2016 U.N. resolution that condemned intentional disruption of internet access by governments.

They are also preventing hundreds of local startups and companies from working and delivering their services, simply because their work relies on internet access. A recent Deloitte study demonstrated that an internet shutdown can cost a country up to 1.9 percent of the daily GDP.

Indian journalist and Modi critic shot dead
Veteran Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot to death Sept. 5 outside her home in Bangalore. Lankesh took a strong oppositional stance against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in her journalism and was convicted in 2016 of defaming two politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. In recent interviews, she expressed concerns about the state of free speech in India after being harassed and targeted with death threats online. One of her last tweets read:

The police investigating her killing have yet to arrest any suspects.

Chinese man jailed for selling VPNs
Chinese authorities sentenced a man to nine months in jail for selling virtual private networks to circumvent internet censorship. The man was convicted of “providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system,” a rather unusual characterization of VPNs. Chinese authorities announced a crackdown on unauthorized VPN services earlier this year.

Communist leaders urge Chinese tech firms to join the party
At a recent symposium, Chinese Communist Party officials urged the country’s internet firms to strengthen their “party building” efforts. In an effort that is likely intended to strengthen party control over the internet, tech companies are facing pressure to set up CCP branches, which typically serve an advisory role within the company, though in some cases they may do more. This push may function in tandem with China’s new cybersecurity law, which empowers authorities to shut down sites violating “socialist core values.” At least 34 Beijing-based internet firms now have party branches, including Weibo, Jingdong, Sohu, 360, and Lets TV.

U.N. experts decry media censorship in Egypt
The U.N. special rapporteurs on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and human rights and counter terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aloáin, expressed “grave concerns” over the Egyptian government’s increasing blocking of websites. At least 21 news websites are reportedly blocked in the country, including MadaMasr, Al Watan, and Huffpost Arabi, as are the websites of human rights organizations including Reporters Without Borders. There is no public record of which sites are blocked, making it difficult to verify the total number. “In the case of the widespread blockings in Egypt,” they wrote, “the blockings appear based on overbroad counter-terrorism legislation, and they lack any form of transparency and have extremely limited, if any, judicial control.”

Open science research site blocked in Russia
, the world’s largest free and open scientific research database, was recently blocked in Russia—though not by Russian regulators. In fact, the website’s founder, Alexandra Elbakyan, elected to block visitors from Russia due to what she described in a letter posted on Sci-Hub’s homepage as “persecution” that she was facing from Russian scientists who did not want their works to be accessible free of charge. Elbakyan, who is from Kazakhstan, began the project in 2011 in a simple effort to increase access to scientific and medical research in Kazakhstan and other countries where universities often do not have access to large Western-owned research databases.

Apparently, Twitter’s rules protect mosquitoes
A Twitter user in Japan was banned from the service for making a death threat against a mosquito. His tweet included a picture of a dead insect.

New Research
#FreeTurkeyJournalists: Database of Jailed Journalists in Turkey”—International Press Institute

The Guide to International Law and Surveillance”—Privacy International

Sept. 6 2017 9:55 PM

Russian Operatives Bought U.S. Political Ads on Facebook. Here’s Why That’s a Big Deal.

Pressed by investigators in Congress, Facebook said Wednesday that it has found evidence that a pro-Kremlin Russian “troll farm” bought $100,000 worth of ads targeted at U.S. voters between 2015 and 2017. The finding was first reported by the Washington Post, and Facebook published its own statement Wednesday afternoon.

A few of the roughly 3,000 ads that Facebook traced to the Russian company mentioned presidential candidates Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton directly, according to the Post’s sources. The majority focused on stoking people’s emotions around divisive issues such as “gun rights and immigration fears, as well as gay rights and racial discrimination.”

Facebook wouldn’t disclose the ads in question, nor exactly how the scheme worked. But it said the tactics were consistent with those outlined in a white paper on information operations that the company published in April. That white paper described how trolls and foreign agents can use false accounts to amplify divisive messages and disinformation on Facebook’s platform.

One hundred thousand dollars in ad spending might not sound like a lot of money, but it’s a big deal for at least five reasons.

First, it confirms that Facebook was one of the pathways by which Russian operatives sought to influence the U.S. election.

Second, it raises the question of how those Russian operatives knew which U.S. voters to target, and whether the Trump campaign might have played any role.

Third, it casts a new light on Facebook’s “fake news” problem, which looks more sinister if some of the misinformation spread on the platform in the runup to the U.S. election was fueled by Russian-funded ad dollars or troll networks.

Fourth, it suggests that Facebook may have a more widespread oversight problem in its ad sales. As the Post’s story notes, it’s illegal for foreign nationals or governments to buy ads or spend money aimed at influencing a U.S. election. It now seems clear they’ve been using Facebook to do just that.

Finally, while $100,000 amounts to a minuscule fraction of U.S. election spending, it could go a long way in amplifying posts among a targeted audience. Facebook said only about 25 percent of the ads were geographically targeted. But it’s worth remembering that the company has a history of not being forthcoming when it comes to the scale and mechanisms of misinformation on its platform. It’s possible that the activities the company has uncovered and disclosed so far represent only a small part of a larger problem.

Sept. 6 2017 4:14 PM

Come to a Free Screening of Gattaca Hosted by Francis Fukuyama

Join Future Tense and Francis Fukuyama in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20 for a screening and discussion of Gattaca. The 1997 science fiction cult classic explores the widespread deployment of genetic engineering in the near future to design a more perfect society.

Fukuyama has served as a member of the White House Council on Bioethics and is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute. He is the author of The Origins of Political Order and The End of History and the Last Man.

This latest installment of Future Tense’s “My Favorite Movie” series will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at Washington, D.C.'s Landmark E Street Cinema at 555 11th Street NW. For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website. You may RSVP for yourself and up to one guest. Seating is limited.

Sept. 6 2017 4:02 PM

Future Tense Newsletter: Welcome to the Future of the Future

Greetings, Future Tensers,

On Friday, we launched the Future of the Future, our monthlong series on all the ways we plan for things to come. As Dan Gardner writes, we tend to only remember predictions about the future that come true. But given our reliance on future-thinking, it’s time to start reflecting more critically on our predictions. For instance, taking a look at how polling failed us in the 2016 election can help us fix flawed methods for a politically polarized era. Rachel Withers shows us how reflecting on Walt Disney’s vision for Tomorrowland can help us evaluate contemporary visionaries like Elon Musk.

One common thread in these pieces is the difficulty of making predictions around climate change. In light of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Will Oremus went deep on the prediction models economists use to determine how much the future is worth and how they affect spending on safeguards against natural disasters. Global warming is also shaping the future of military strategy, according to Peter W. Singer, author of Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. Isaac Chotiner spoke with Singer about future threats, how Russia has shaken things up, and whether the U.S. military is really ready for the next world war.

Other things we read after getting schooled by this quiz on historical predictions about the future:

  • Dreams of virtual reality: Jacob Brogan explores what the real-world proliferation of virtual reality means when the medium has always been so intrinsic to how we imagine future technologies.
  • No Ph.D. required: Want to help shape the future? Citizen science is giving non-scientists new ways to get involved, write Darlene Cavalier and Jason Lloyd.
  • Re-meme-bering history: Read about how the Library of Congress is archiving new forms of internet culture and how the web is "self-archiving” like “a landfill.”
  • Smartphone fouls: The Red Soxs have been caught using Apple watches to steal rival signals. Will Oremus explains why this might be the biggest thing to ever happen to the mediocre wearable.

Future bound,
Tonya Riley

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

Sept. 6 2017 3:56 PM

IBM’s Watson Supercomputer Was Supposed to Revolutionize Oncology. Things Aren’t Going Great.

In an IBM commercial from 2016, an adorable, gap-toothed girl named Annabelle sits down on a couch to chat with Watson, the company’s supercomputer. Reminding her that her birthday is coming up, it asks whether she’ll be having a cake. She cheerily responds that she will, even though she was too sick the year before. “The data your doctor shared shows you’re healthy,” it tells her in its clipped voice, adding that it helps physicians identify cancer treatments. “Watson, I like you,” Annabelle chirps as the segment concludes.

Chatty and personable, the Watson of this commercial—as in many of IBM’s more celebrity-focused spots—seems designed to assuage public fears about malevolent artificial intelligence: This is a HAL 9000 who would happily open the pod bay doors for you, so long as you asked nicely. Even the computer’s name—a reference to former IBM chairman Thomas J. Watson—also evokes that of Sherlock Holmes’ bumbling colleague, arguably suggesting that A.I. is there to help advance our stories, not to replace the human mind.*

That’s a worthy ideal, and one that squares with the hopes of artificial intelligence researchers who believe advanced algorithms will facilitate human labor instead of supplanting it. It is, notably, the goal of IBM’s Watson for Oncology, the ambitious project referenced in that commercial, which promises to let doctors “Spend less time searching literature and [electronic medical records], and more time caring for patients.” Despite the occasional, enthusiastic article proposing that the supercomputer will become the “best doctor in the world,” its goal has always been to ease the work of clinicians, not to supplant them.

The trouble is, Watson may not even be good at that relatively modest task.

In a lengthy and heavily reported article from Stat, Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitz write that the widely touted oncology system doesn’t appear to be as useful as IBM’s marketing suggests. As they put it, their reporting “suggest[s] that IBM, in its rush to bolster flagging revenue, unleashed a product without fully assessing the challenges of deploying it in hospitals globally.”

As Jennings Brown has written in Gizmodo, Watson has long been more a triumph of marketing than anything else, but Stat offers a deep dive into the supercomputer’s practical limitations. Among other things, Watson for Oncology fails to live up to the most sweeping promise of AI-assisted medical care: that it would help generate novel treatment regimens from individual patient data. To the contrary, Ross and Swetlitz explain, Watson’s recommendations rely “exclusively on training by human overseers, who laboriously feed Watson information about how patients with specific characteristics should be treated.”

That training comes entirely from the work of physicians at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York. After receiving a given patient’s medical records, Watson reportedly crawls through the database those doctors have created and provides a list of recommended treatment plans. It organizes these suggestions according to their probable efficacy, though the design of the system is such that it cannot explain why it weighs one over another.

It’s here that the true problems begin to reveal themselves. According to one of Ross and Swetlitz’s sources, for example, Watson sometimes suggests a chemotherapy drug for patients whose cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, even when it has been given information about a patient whose cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.

In other cases, its recommendations show a clear geographic bias: Because its proposals derive from a single hospital, they fail to take the treatment protocols of other countries into account. Where Memorial Sloan Kettering’s patients are, Ross and Swetlitz write, “generally affluent,” other hospitals may not have access to the same resources. Accordingly, Watson threatens to devolve into another example of algorithmic bias, normatively imposing judgments that apply to a specific population, whether or not they are optimal in other parts of the world.

Such considerations come to a head, Ross and Swetlitz suggest, in IBM’s failure to empirically demonstrate that Watson improves medical care in any meaningful way. While some reporting does indicate that the computer can save clinical research time in certain contexts, no studies on Watson for Oncology have yet appeared in peer-reviewed publications. Where research has been conducted, it’s not always positive: Unpublished work from Denmark, for example, indicates only 33 percent agreement between the computer’s proposals and those of medical professionals. And even where the alignment is higher, Ross and Swetlitz write, “[S]howing that Watson agrees with the doctors proves only that it is competent in applying existing methods of care, not that it can improve them.”

As CNBC reports, a “recent Gallup survey [found] that about one in eight workers, or 13 percent of Americans … believe it’s likely they will lose their jobs due to new technology, automation, robots or AI in the next five years.” Given that A.I. is likely to leave millions unemployed in the years ahead, it’s tempting to suggest that 87 percent of Americans aren’t worried enough. As Stat’s investigation shows, however, oncologists are probably safe—at least for now.

*Correction, Sept. 6, 2017: This post originally misidentified the origin of the name of the IBM supercomputer Watson.

Sept. 6 2017 2:47 PM

Facebook Told Advertisers It Can Reach More Young Adults in America Than Actually Exist

Facebook is the largest social media network in the world, and in terms of online advertising revenue, it’s second only to Google, raking in more than $36.3 billion this year already. With that much money coming through the door, one would think Facebook would have accurate metrics about how its ads perform, and how many people they reach.

But that’s not the case. On Tuesday, Brian Wieser, a senior analyst in online advertising at Pivotal Research Group, called Facebook out for claiming to reach 41 million young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 in U.S., even though recent census data only counts 31 million people in the U.S. in that age range. And for people between the ages of 25 to 34, Facebook boasts that it reaches 60 million people in the U.S.—but again, those figures appear to be overblown. Last year’s census data, according to Wieser, shows only 45 million people in that age range living in the U.S.

The free internet runs on advertising. It’s one way websites like this one pay journalists. It’s how businesses get the word out about their products and services and how political campaigns and nonprofits reach constituents. So it goes to figure that Facebook and Google play a huge role in setting the prices for online ads. If Facebook prices ads lower than another venue that hosts ads, that firm may have a hard time competing because it can’t afford to take the cut. Likewise, when Facebook claims to reach more people than it actually does, the social media giant can ostensibly charge more for reaching a larger audience.

Facebook, for its part, chalked its 10 and 15 million-person discrepancy to measuring audience reach in ways that supersede census numbers, in that its ads “are designed to estimate how many people in a given area are eligible to see an ad a business might run,” Facebook said in a statement to Reuters. To be fair, millions of people flow into the U.S. as visitors each month. In March, the National Travel and Tourism Office counted 5.6 million nonresidents who have visited the U.S., but even those numbers, combined with counting users who may misstate their age on Facebook, don’t seem explain the massive gap between the people Facebook claims to reach and the amount of people who actually live in the U.S.

The problem here isn’t only about price-setting and market power; it’s also about trust. Ads online typically fall into two buckets: ones on the open web, where they can more easily be tracked, and ones within “walled gardens” like Facebook, where the owner of the platform has to be trusted to provide reliable metrics. Facebook falls into that second category, and that means that marketers have to be able to trust that the ads bought on Facebook are actually reaching the audiences they’re paying to reach.

Facebook no doubt knows this, which is why it launched a blog last year, Metrics FYI, to be more upfront about any errors or bugs it finds in its advertising system. That effort in transparency only came after the company got caught in a series of errors that overstated and understated the metrics publishers and advertisers rely on to clock the effectiveness of the dollars they spend with Facebook. In December, Facebook admitted it undercounted traffic from iPhones when measuring how many people read Instant Articles, news pieces that load directly within the platform. Facebook lets publishers sell their own ads against Instant Articles, but those ad sales depend on reliable metrics. The social media giant also admitted in a blog post shortly after the election that it exaggerated the amount of time users spend consuming news on Facebook, as well as the number of people businesses reached with unpaid, regular posts on their Facebook pages. The company also fessed up to overstating the amount of time users spend watching videos on Facebook. This May Facebook admitted to miscategorizing clicks on mobile devices, which led some marketers to overpay.

If Facebook and Google weren’t the only power players in the digital ad space, their blunders might not be that big of a deal. Competition keeps companies in check, since marketers could ostensibly take their ad dollars elsewhere. Competition also incentivizes ad companies to innovate and provide the best possible service for fear of losing business. But the digital ad market is extremely concentrated. Google, the global leader in ad revenue, made $79.4 billion in ads last year, according to the media firm Zenith; Facebook made $26.9 billion in 2016. And with so many people depending on both Google and Facebook to get information and connect with friends and family online, if a marketing campaign wants to be successful, there’s really no way to avoid the internet giants—even if they aren’t always easy to trust.

Sept. 5 2017 8:08 PM

The Boston Red Sox Finally Found a Good Use for the Apple Watch

The Boston Red Sox are under investigation by Major League Baseball for allegedly using the Apple Watch to help them steal signs from opposing catchers, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

According to the story, the rival New York Yankees caught evidence of the scheme on video following a series against the Red Sox in Fenway Park last month and sent it to the commissioner’s office two weeks ago. It seems Red Sox personnel watching the catcher’s hand signals on video were using Apple’s smartwatch to quickly convey information about those signs to trainers in the dugout, who could then pass it on to players on the field. The Red Sox apparently ’fessed up when confronted by the commissioner’s office—then retaliated with a complaint alleging that the Yankees have been using a special TV camera to steal signs at their own home park.

Stealing signs—which, if done properly, tips off the batter to the type of pitch he’s about to face—is a time-honored ploy in baseball. And it’s actually not against the rules, provided it’s done without the aid of any technological tools, probably because it’s so hard to pull off. Using binoculars, video cameras, or other electronic devices to steal signs, however, is officially prohibited.

If true, the story may be another smudge to the reputation of Boston’s pro sports franchises. But it’s something of a PR coup for Apple, which has struggled to convince consumers of the Watch’s utility. The (presumably) unplanned advertisement comes exactly one week ahead of an Apple launch event that many expect to include a new Apple Watch—one that might finally receive cellular data without being tethered to an iPhone.

When Apple first announced the watch three years ago, the company made it look like the next great mobile computing device—a retrofuturistic, Dick Tracy–esque gizmo that would let you check email and send messages from the convenience of your wrist. But to the extent the device has caught on, users have tended to find it handy mostly as a fitness tracker that happens to have some additional bells and whistles. When Apple launched its second version of the watch last fall, it embraced that reinterpretation. And Men’s Health magazine this week ran an in-depth feature story on a “secret exercise lab” at Apple headquarters where the company puts employees through workouts to gather fine-grained fitness data and test new features.

Professional athletes using the watch to gain a competitive advantage might seem to be in keeping with the device’s new image. In a funny way, though, the Red Sox’s sign-stealing shenanigans are actually a perfect illustration of the sort of Watch functionality that Apple originally had in mind. The baseball dugout, it turns out, is just the sort of place where one might want to check some basic yet vital information via a subtle glance at the wrist, rather than by conspicuously pulling a phone out of one’s pocket.

On the other hand, if it took two years, baseball’s greatest rivalry, and a network of unscrupulous ballplayers to uncover the Apple Watch’s ideal use case as a communications device, perhaps it’s not such a killer app after all. Especially since, you know, they still got caught.

Aug. 30 2017 3:30 PM

Future Tense Newsletter: How Social Media and Flying Robots are Changing Disaster Relief

Greetings, Future Tensers,

Record rainfall from Hurricane Harvey deluged much of Houston this week, leaving countless residents in America’s fourth-largest city in need of help. As the official relief effort—including 911 services—became overwhelmed, Twitter became a powerful tool to relay rescue pleas and share other vital information about the storm. But there’s still a lot more the platform could do to make sure people aren’t being left behind, writes Christina Cauterucci.

Viral media isn’t the only technology being tested in the aftermath of the natural disaster. After the storm clears, insurance companies are expected to deploy hundreds of drones to survey the damage in what is expected to be the industry’s widest-scale use of the robots to date, explains April Glaser.

In more Twitter news, Russian bots are back in full force attempting to spread misinformation and sow discord after Charlottesville. The hotbed of hatred has led some tech companies to fight back. As April Glaser reports, one of the most prominent white supremacist and Nazi destinations on the web, Stormfront, has effectively been kicked offline—and that could have major consequences for the way the group organizes.

Other things we read between wondering about Waymo:

  • Make your voice heard: Today is the last day to join 21 million other Americans in voicing your opinion on net neutrality to the Federal Communications Commission.
  • Data fishing: The Justice Department may have limited the scope of its request for data on Trump protesters, but April Glaser explains that the narrower version still threatens democracy.
  • Blowhard energy: Leah McBride Mensching reports on the health and safety concerns that wind energy poses to the residents who live near turbines.
  • Poetry bots: Roses are red, violets are blue, as Leah Henrickson explains, machine poetry is nothing new.
  • De-LOL-reans: Jacob Brogan explains how disappointment and silliness combine to create “I Bet There Will Be Flying Cars in the Future,” the viral meme that perfectly encapsulates our dumb year.

Tonya Riley

for Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

Aug. 29 2017 6:38 PM

The FCC Still Wants to End Net Neutrality. Wednesday Is the Last Day to Speak Out.

Net neutrality was on the chopping block as soon as Trump took office, and this week will mark another milestone on the Obama-era regulation’s likely route to extinction.

Wednesday is the last day for the public to file comments with the Federal Communications Commission on the fate of net neutrality, which President Trump’s chairman, Ajit Pai, wants to completely undo. Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers should treat all traffic that travels over their networks equally—an idea that attracted more than 4 million comments when the agency passed the regulations in 2015.

Pai, a Republican who also served on the FCC under President Obama and took over the agency in January, introduced a new proposal that would rescind the net neutrality rules, which the Republican-led FCC could vote on by the end of the year. After the comment window closes on Wednesday, the FCC is supposed to come back with a response for how it plans to move forward.

If the net neutrality rules are repealed, internet service providers stand to make major profits: They’ll be able to charge both customers for internet access and websites for fast lane access. And when websites load slowly, people navigate away, so the companies that can afford to be in the fast lane will have a huge advantage over startups or smaller competitors.

Pai has been pushing hard to repeal the current regulations. In the FCC’s May proposal, he argued that net neutrality has dissuaded internet providers from investing in building out and upgrading their networks. Last month the chairman testified to Congress that he could be persuaded to stop trying to roll back net neutrality if he heard a convincing argument that investment in internet infrastructure was actually on the rise. But clearly Pai isn’t paying close attention to what internet providers are reporting on their investment calls: AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon all said they’ve been spending big to expand and improve their networks’ infrastructure since the network neutrality rules passed.

The public has been speaking up this time around—the current docket has more than 21 million comments. But even with the fate of the open internet at stake, Pai’s proposal might sail through without a huge public fight. Net neutrality could very well become another casualty of Trump’s reign.