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Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM Will Temporarily Stop Selling Facial Recognition Technology to Law Enforcement

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  • After increased calls for tech companies to stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement, Amazon pledged to stop for one year.
  • Microsoft promised to stop until there is federal legislation, and IBM said it will stop entirely.
  • Numerous studies have found that facial recognition programs disproportionately misidentify people of color, which could lead to false arrests. Others are concerned police are using the technology to identify and arrest protestors, as they have in the past.
  • Facial recognition is entirely unregulated at the federal level, and all three companies pushed for national legislation.

The Problem With Facial Recognition

IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft have all said they will stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement— at least temporarily.

Over the last few years, government agencies and law enforcement have significantly increased their use of facial recognition technology, which is almost entirely unregulated, to track down criminals, terrorists, and illegal immigrants.

One 2016 study by the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law that combined FBI data with information about state and local systems found that facial recognition systems used by law enforcement impacts over 117 million American adults, meaning that “one in two American adults is in a law enforcement face recognition network.”

While the use of facial recognition is something that both activists and privacy advocates have criticized for years, the recent protests and calls for changes in policing have placed renewed pressure on tech companies to stop selling these tools to law enforcement agencies.

There are two overarching arguments made by those who oppose the use of facial recognition by law enforcement.

The first is the argument that the law enforcement system is structurally racist, and any policing tool utilized by that system will undoubtedly be used to target Black and brown people— as all policing tools are.

The second argument is that numerous studies have found that the existing facial recognition technology is far more likely to misidentify women and people of color, which means the systems will lead to more wrongful arrests if used by police. 

The reason for this fundamental flaw is due to the fact that the data used to build the facial recognition software are often largely made up of pictures of white men, which makes racial bias ingrained in the systems.

For example, one federal report released at the end of last year found that Asian and Black individuals were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition software than white men.

When it comes to the protests, there are also very serious concerns that facial recognition is being used to identify Black Lives Matter protestors— which is something they have done before.

During the protests over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who died in the custody of police in Baltimore in 2015, the Baltimore Police Department used facial recognition technology to identify protestors, try to link them up with their social media profiles, and then target them for arrest.

What Are They Doing Now?

But despite all of that, tech companies continued to sell facial recognition technology to the police and other law enforcement agencies for years, which is why these decisions by some of the three largest tech companies in the world are significant.

IBM was the first to make its announcement last Monday, and also made the most permanent commitment.

“IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software,” CEO Arvind Krishna wrote in a letter to members of Congress. “IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms.”

Two days later Amazon announced in a statement that it was: “implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology.”

“We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge,” the statement continued. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”

Amazon’s commitment here is especially notable because the company’s facial recognition technology has been arguable the most heavily criticized of the three. 

A 2018 test conducted by the ACLU found that Amazon’s software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with mugshots of people who had committed crimes. In 2019, one study found that Amazon’s system had more difficulty identifying women and darker-skinned faces than IBM and Microsoft’s technology.

As for Microsoft, their announcement was made by the company’s president, Brad Smith, in an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday.

“We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology,” Smith said, noting that Microsoft has not sold the technology to police departments in the past.

Where the Plans Fall Short

While many have applauded the moves these three companies made, others have noted that there are a lot of places where their plans fall short.

For example, while Microsoft and Amazon have not said if they will stop selling the technology to other government agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Amazon has also faced extra scrutiny over its decision to limit selling their products to the police to just one year, as many have pointed out that it is unlikely we will have comprehensive national legislation by then.

Others have also noted that Amazon has not said what will happen to the police departments its already sold their facial recognition system to, which is significant because, in February, the head of Amazon Web Services said that the company doesn’t know how many police forces had bought their technology.

Even beyond that, numerous activists have called for the technology to be banned at the federal level, full stop. But regardless of a full ban or just more regulation, it is clear that these three companies believe that there needs to be a framework at the national level.

Especially because, as Smith pointed out, smaller companies will likely rush in and fill the space that these big companies are leaving by stepping out of the law-enforcement market— even if just temporarily.

“If all of the responsible companies in the country cede this market to those that are not prepared to take a stand, we won’t necessarily serve the national interest or the lives of the Black and African-American people of this nation well,” he said. “We need Congress to act, not just tech companies alone.”

But whether or not that will happen anytime soon remains unclear. According to reports, right now there are at least a dozen bills in Congress that address facial recognition either directly or indirectly as part of a larger proposal, though most have bee deprioritized.

There have been a number of efforts at the state and local level, but even those are up in the air, and without a holistic, national framework, not a lot can be expected to change.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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Catholic School Expels Students After Discovering Mother’s OnlyFans Account

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  • Crystal Jackson, a California mother of three, said her boys were expelled from their Catholic school after other parents notified administrators of her OnlyFans account.
  • Jackson, who started the account to boost her confidence and rekindle her relationship with her husband, said she only posts pinup-style photos in lingerie, not pornography. 
  • Now, she’s speaking out against the intense harassment she’s faced from parents in her community and has criticized the school’s decision to punish her children. 
  • She also said the school is working to update its handbook to include a rule that “any parent who is involved in a site or blog that goes against teachings of the church and school philosophy must be removed.”

Mother’s OnlyFans Account Draws Criticism

A mother in Sacramento, California says her three boys were expelled from their Catholic school after administrators discovered her OnlyFans account.

That mother is Crystal Jackson, who joined the site in 2019 to spice up her struggling relationship with her husband of 14 years, Chris.

Jackson says she does not post pornography on her account. Instead, she posts pinup-style photos in lingerie and includes “sexy stories” that play up the image of what she and Chris call “the mom next door.”

The account started as a secret between the two of them, but it has since become a huge success, bringing in over $150,000 a month along with hundreds of thousands of social media followers. 

While the new venture has also brought her a boost of joy and self-confidence, her growing popularity on the platform eventually caught the attention of parents at Sacred Heart Parish School.

According to several interviews Crystal has given to media outlets, parents were relentlessly urging that her sons be kicked out of school.

They began harassing her with texts and voicemails bullying her and insulting her family. At one point, she says a group of mothers even printed out her OnlyFans photos and sent them anonymously in a packet to the school principal.

Some also reported her to their local priest and bishop and created a Facebook group to gossip about her family. 

School Expels Mother’s Three Sons

She was eventually removed as 2nd-grade ‘room mother’ due to the complaints. After growing tired of the treatment, she eventually gave an interview to The Sun about all the harassment.

But the issue escalated Sunday when the school sent her a letter notifying her of its decision.

“Your apparent quest for high-profile controversy in support of your adult website is in direct conflict with what we hope to impart to our students and is directly opposed to the policies laid out in our Parent/Student Handbook,” it read.

“We therefore require that you find another school for your children and have no further association with ours.”

Now, she says the school is working to update their handbook to include a rule that says: “Any parent who is involved in a site or blog that goes against teachings of the church and school philosophy must be removed.”

Crystal has continued to speak out against the school’s decision, telling People Magazine that her 8, 10, and 12 years old are good kids who are only being hurt by the school’s actions. 

“Take me down, that’s fine, but leave my kids out of this,” she said.

“I didn’t want to be put out there, but at some point, I have to stand up and say I can’t take it anymore because this behavior is horrible,” she added.

Crystal noted that she was hoping to put her kids back in Catholic school but says she and her husband will likely have to put them in public school.

“They won’t allow them in this diocese, and is this really the place for them to be?” she said. “It’s clear that they said we don’t want you.”

“In the year 2021, here we are, trying to bring a woman down for her choices and what she does with her husband,” Crystal added. “It’s body shaming and bullying all encompassed into one and it’s such a double standard and disturbing.”

For now, she’s just hoping the judgment and harassment in her community will stop. “I’m still the same Crystal I was, like, two years ago, a year ago, when we had coffee, before you knew this.

See what others are saying: (People) (NBC News) (The Sun)

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Nearly 9 Million Are Without Water in Texas, Some Face Electric Bills up To $17,000

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  • More than 8.8 million people in Texas remained under boil water notices Monday, and over 120,000 had no water service at all. 
  • Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday that the state has distributed around 3.5 million bottles of water, though many of the lines to receive that water were plagued with hours-long waits.
  • Meanwhile, power outages in the state have fallen below 20,000, but many Texans are also beginning to receive astronomical electric bills of as much as $17,000.
  • Both Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said those prices are not the fault of customers. While some form of forgiveness is likely, no immediate plan has been outlined yet. 

Millions Without Water

As of Monday morning, nearly 8.8 million people in Texas are still under boil water notices following last week’s snowstorm. That’s about one out of every three Texans.

Despite being a giant chunk of the state’s population, that figure is actually an improvement from 10 million people on Sunday. 

Another 120,000 Texans are still without water service at all.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday almost 3.5 million bottles of water have been distributed across Texas by helicopter, airplane, and truck.

The need for water has been extremely visible. An Austin City Council member shared a video on Twitter Sunday showing a massive line of vehicles waiting for clean water. Some waited for more than an hour before the distribution event began. At another site, she said cars began lining up more than five hours before the event. 

Abbott said the state is bringing in more plumbers to increase repair efforts for damaged water systems. Additionally, Abbott said homeowners without insurance could qualify for emergency reimbursement from FEMA.

Meanwhile, one large-scale effort from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY.) has now raised more than $5 million since first being launched on Thursday. That money will go to several organizations, including the Houston Food Bank, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas, and the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center.

Texas Electric Bills Soar as High as $17K

All but just under 20,000 Texas homes and businesses have now had their power restored as of Monday morning.

That’s a stark contrast from the more than 4 million that were out of power at one point last week. 

While that’s largely good news, many Texans are now beginning to receive sky-high electric bills. That’s especially evident for those whose power stayed on during the storm. In fact, some people have now told multiple media outlets they’re facing bills as high as $17,000.

One 63-year-old Army vet, who was charged $16,752, told The New York Times that his bill was about 70 times higher than normal.

“My savings is gone,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”

As far as why his and others’ eclectic bills are so high, many people in Texas have plans that are directly tied to the wholesale price of electricity. Usually, that helps keep their costs low, but as demand for power surged during last week’s snowstorm, those prices hit astronomical highs. 

In a statement on Saturday, Abbott said Texas lawmakers “have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” 

He added that the state Legislature is working “on solutions to help Texas families and ensure they do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”

In a similar tone, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said in an interview with CBS on Sunday, “It’s not the consumers who should assume [these] costs. They are not at fault for what happened this week.”

That said, Turner also laid blame at the feet of the Legislature, calling the current crisis “foreseeable” on the part of lawmakers because a similar snowstorm and outages struck Texas in 2011.

Turner added that, at the time, he was part of the Texas legislature and had filed a bill that would have required the agency overseeing Texas’ grid to “ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts.”

“The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing,” he said. 

While no aid has been fully guaranteed yet, Texas has prevented electric companies from being able to shut off power for people who don’t pay their bills on time. 

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Texans Still Face Broken Pipes, Flooding, and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning as Million Regain Power

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  • The number of Texans without power fell from 3.3 million on Wednesday to below 500,000 by Thursday.
  • Still, millions are currently under a boil advisory, pipes have burst as they begin to thaw, and some individuals have died or been hospitalized because of carbon monoxide poisoning. 
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that it has sent generators, water, and blankets to Texas, adding that it’s working to send additional diesel for generators.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes.

Power May Be Back but Problems Persist

Power outages in Texas Thursday morning fell to under 500,000 — down from 3.3 million Wednesday morning. 

According to the state’s main grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the remaining outages are largely weather-related and not connected to problems related to forced outages. 

While that return of power to millions is significant, Texans are still facing a host of other problems.

For example, there have been numerous reports of carbon monoxide poisoning as people still without power try to keep warm in their cars or through other means. An adult and a child were found dead Tuesday after running their car inside of a garage, prompting Houston police to issue a statement warning that “cars, grills and generators should not be used in or near a building.”

Six children and four adults were rushed to the hospital Wednesday night for carbon monoxide poisoning after setting up grills inside their homes. 

Even for those now with power, water has become a major issue. On Wednesday, 7 million Texans were placed on a boil advisory and about 263,000 were without functioning water providers. 

One reporter tweeted out a video of people lining up at a park to fill up buckets of water.

“This is not a third world country,” she said. “This is Houston, Texas.”

The Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service have even cited melting and boiling snow as an emergency option if people can’t find water elsewhere, an option many have already turned to. 

For some, all these problems only seemed to compound in the form of burst pipes. One viral video shows water gushing out of a third-story apartment. Others posted images of their broken pipes and the damage they have caused. 

As a result, a number of local media outlets have begun to outline steps people can take once their pipes start to thaw or if they break. 

Amid Problems, Aid is Being Distributed

Alongside the overwhelming amount of problems, there has also been a large aid response.

A FEMA spokesperson said Wednesday that the agency has sent 60 “very large” generators to help keep hospitals and other critical infrastructure open. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added that FEMA is preparing to move diesel into Texas to keep that backup power going.

So far, FEMA said it has sent “millions of liters of water” and “tens of thousands” of blankets.

Governor Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes. That’s because as the storm first hit, electrical demand surged. Since many Texans have plans connected to the wholesale price of electricity, they’re potentially set to be hit with sky-high bills.

Among other issues plaguing Texans is food spoilage; however, that can potentially be reimbursed through renters’ and homeowners’ insurance.

According to an official from the Insurance Council of Texas, “Food coverage is often related to personal property.”

Notably, there are some stipulations depending on individual circumstances and policy. To learn more about how insurance providers accept food spoilage claims, click here.

See what others are saying: (KTRK) (The New York Times) (Houston Chronicle)

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