Top voting machine maker reverses position on election security, promises paper ballots

Voting machine maker ES&S has said it “will no longer sell” paperless voting machines as the primary device for casting ballots in a jurisdiction.

ES&S chief executive Tom Burt confirmed the news in an op-ed.

TechCrunch understands the decision was made around the time that four senior Democratic lawmakers demanded to know why ES&S, and two other major voting machine makers, were still selling decade-old machines known to contain security flaws.

Burt’s op-ed said voting machines “must have physical paper records of votes” to prevent mistakes or tampering that could lead to improperly cast votes. Sen. Ron Wyden introduced a bill a year ago that would mandate voter-verified paper ballots for all election machines.

The chief executive also called on Congress to pass legislation mandating a stronger election machine testing program.

Burt’s remarks are a sharp turnaround from the company’s position just a year ago, in which the election systems maker drew ire from the security community for denouncing vulnerabilities found by hackers at the annual Defcon conference.

Security researchers at the conference’s Voting Village found a security flaw in an old but widely used voting machine in dozens of states. Their findings prompted a response by senior lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who said that independent testing “is one of the most effective ways to understand and address potential cybersecurity risks.”

But ES&S disagreed. In a letter firing back, Burt said he believed “exposing technology in these kinds of environments makes hacking elections easier, not harder, and we suspect that our adversaries are paying very close attention.”

Days later, NSA cybersecurity chief Rob Joyce criticized the response. “Ignorance of insecurity does not get you security,” he tweeted. “The investigation of these devices by the hacker community is a service, not a threat.”

Although unexpected, election security experts have generally applauded ES&S’ shift in position.

Matt Blaze, a cryptography and computer science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a tweet he was “genuinely glad” the company is calling for paper ballots and mandatory security testing.

“Hopefully they’ll also stop threatening to sue people like me and the Defcon Voting Village when we examine and report on their equipment and software,” he said. Blaze, who co-founded the Voting Village, faced legal pressure from ES&S at the time. The election security experts responded to the “vague and unsupportable threats” by accusing the voting machine maker of “discouraging” researchers from examining its machines “at a time when there is significant concern about the integrity of our election system.”

An ES&S spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by TechCrunch over the weekend.

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National security journalism just became a national security threat

Six years ago, British intelligence officers walked into the offices of The Guardian newspaper in London and demanded its staff destroy computers they believed stored highly classified documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In the basement of the newspaper’s officers, editors used angle-grinders and drills to destroy the computers in an effort to render its data unusable after “weeks of tense negotiations” between the newspaper and the British government, itself under pressure from U.S. authorities — a close intelligence sharing partner — to return the leaked top secret documents. Despite the fact that there were several copies of the NSA documents — including in the U.S — the newspaper faced a threat of punitive legal action or prosecution if they declined.

“The only way of protecting the Guardian’s team was for the paper to destroy its own computers,” said Luke Harding, a Guardian journalist.

In the years of citing this case in why press freedoms are so important, the Americans always respond: “Wait, that happened?”

That would never happen in the U.S. It’s not uncommon for national security reporters to obtain classified information or rely on government employees providing secret information, particularly to uncover abuses of power or the law. As the only named profession in the U.S. constitution, the U.S. press is a shining example of holding the powers to account no matter what.

But the most recent charges laid against Julian Assange has put those press freedoms under threat.

Julian Assange, widely regarded as a liar, a proponent of misinformation, and loathed by many for generally being a shitbag, has been defended by some of his biggest critics since the latest round of charges were announced against him.

Assange last week became the first person to be charged under the Espionage Act, an act of law that predates the Great Depression by an entire decade, and used to prosecute foreign spies and government whistleblowers, for publishing classified information.

“This is exactly what national security reporters and their news publications often ask government officials or contractors to do,” said Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and former government lawyer, in a post on Lawfare.

In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve done. In 2017, following the fifth security lapse at NSA in as many years, I obtained and published classified documents relating to the government’s Ragtime program and the Red Disk intelligence sharing platform. While it’s not unheard of for reporters to face government investigations for doing their jobs, not a single journalist has been charged for obtaining or publishing classified information in the past hundred years since the Espionage Act became law.

It’s no surprise that the indictment has rattled news organizations and reporters, which too have published classified information like off-grid torture sites and global government surveillance provided by anonymous sources and whistleblowers, for fear they may also suffer a similar prosecution.

Washington Post editor Marty Baron said in a statement: “Dating as far back as the Pentagon Papers case and beyond, journalists have been receiving and reporting on information that the government deemed classified. Wrongdoing and abuse of power were exposed. With the new indictment of Julian Assange, the government is advancing a legal argument that places such important work in jeopardy and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment.”

Assange, through WikiLeaks, published numerous troves of highly classified diplomatic cables and military videos showing the killing of civilians including a Reuters camera crew, provided by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was herself charged under the act and imprisoned before her sentence was later commuted. The government’s latest indictment accused Assange of publishing “unredacted names of human sources,” which “risked serious harm to United States national security.”

Some of Assange’s most vocal critics have said the U.S. is prosecuting Assange for “the last good thing he did”. Since his publications, Assange has sullied his own name and reputation, not least by working with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by releasing embarrassing stolen emails.

The Justice Department said Assange is “no journalist.” But the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and press freedoms, doesn’t distinguish between whether someone’s a journalist or not.

“The First Amendment gives journalists no special rights,” says national security lawyer Elizabeth Goitein. in a Washington Post op-ed. “In prohibiting abridgments of ‘the freedom of speech, or of the press,’ it gives equal protection to those who speak, those who write, those who report, and those who publish.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether Assange is a journalist or not.

Under U.S. law, with which he’s charged, all — regardless of whether a person is a reporter or not — are protected by the same freedoms. With a successful prosecution of Assange, there’s nothing stopping the government from laying charges against any other American — journalist or otherwise — for receiving and publishing classified information.

“This is not about Julian Assange,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, a prominent lawmaker and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “This is about the use of the Espionage Act to charge a recipient and publisher of classified information.”

“Assange’s case could set a dangerous precedent with regard to the kinds of activities that the First Amendment does not protect — a precedent that could chill even the most careful, skilled professional journalists from pursuing stories involving national security secrets,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, in an op-ed.

The Washington Post reported Friday that the Obama administration considered bringing charges against Assange years ago but was concerned that the charges would prosecute conduct “too similar” to that of reporters at established news organizations.

But now that the Trump administration has brought charges against Assange, journalists once branded by the president the “enemy of the people” could soon be treated as enemies of the state.

WikiLeaks’ Assange charged under the Espionage Act in a ‘major test case’ for press freedom

Julian Assange, founder of whistleblowing site WikiLeaks, has been charged with more than a dozen additional charges by U.S. federal prosecutors, including under the controversial Espionage Act — a case that will likely test the rights of freedom of speech and expression under the First Amendment.

Assange, 47, was arrested at the Ecuadorean embassy in London in April after the U.S. government charged him with conspiracy to hack a government computer used by then army officer Chelsea Manning to leak classified information about the Iraq War. Ecuador withdrew his asylum request seven years after he first entered the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face unrelated allegations of rape and sexual assault. Assange was later jailed in the U.K. for a year for breaking bail while he was in the embassy.

According to the newly unsealed indictment, Assange faces 17 new charges — including publishing classified information — under the Espionage Act, a law typically reserved for spies working against the U.S. or whistleblowers and leakers who worked for the U.S. intelligence community.

Both Manning and Edward Snowden, two former government employees turned whistleblowers, were both charged under the Espionage Act for leaking files to the media. 

Prosecutors said Thursday that the WikiLeaks founder — who published numerous troves of highly classified diplomatic cables, military videos showing the killing of civilians and government hacking tools — was charged in part because Assange published a “narrow subset” of documents passed to him by Manning while she was working as an Army intelligence analyst that revealed the names of confidential sources.

A statement from the Justice Department read:

After agreeing to receive classified documents from Manning and aiding, abetting, and causing Manning to provide classified documents, the superseding indictment charges that Assange then published on WikiLeaks classified documents that contained the unredacted names of human sources who provided information to United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to U.S. State Department diplomats around the world.

According to the superseding indictment, Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention.

The department said many of the files were classified as “secret,” meaning their release could do “serious damage” to U.S. national security.

Assange is also accused of engaging in “real-time discussions” with Manning to send over the classified files.

After Assange’s arrest in April, prosecutors had two months to lay additional charges before it sought extradition from the U.K. to the U.S., where he would be tried in court. In refusing to testify to a grand jury about Assange, Manning was held in contempt and jailed for two months. Prior to the release of Thursday’s superseding indictment, Manning was jailed again for refusing to provide testimony.

Debate remains over whether Assange, the self-styled editor of WikiLeaks, should be considered a journalist and granted protections as such. John Demers, who heads the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told reporters that Assange “is no journalist.”

But the case will likely strike at the heart of the First Amendment, which protects against government interference with citizen and reporters’ rights to freedom of speech and expression. It’s rare but not unheard of for reporters to be charged under the national security law — less so for publishing news reports embarrassing to the government but more so to obtain details of the sources who revealed the information in the first place.

Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said the indictment will be a “major test case” for press freedoms because the Espionage Act “doesn’t distinguish between what Assange allegedly did and what mainstream outlets sometimes do, even if the underlying facts [or] motives are radically different.”

The Obama administration, which charged several federal employees under the Espionage Act during the president’s two-term administration, reportedly wanted to charge Assange too but worried it would have a chilling effect on press freedoms.

News of the indictment has already sparked anger and frustration among free speech and civil liberties groups.

WikiLeaks called the news “madness” ia tweet. “It is the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment,” said its Twitter account.

“The Department of Justice just declared war — not on WikiLeaks, but on journalism itself,” tweeted Snowden. “This case will decide the future of media.”

Mueller report details the evolution of Russia’s troll farm as it began targeting US politics

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, Attorney General William Barr released the long-anticipated Mueller report. With it comes a useful overview of how Russia leveraged U.S.-based social media platforms to achieve its political ends.

While we’ve yet to find too much in the heavily redacted text that we didn’t already know, Mueller does recap efforts undertaken by Russia’s mysterious Internet Research Agency or “IRA” to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The IRA attained infamy prior to the 2016 election after it was profiled in depth by the New York Times in 2015. (That piece is still well worth a read.)

Considering the success the shadowy group managed to achieve in infiltrating U.S. political discourse — and the degree to which those efforts have reshaped how we talk about the world’s biggest tech platforms — the events that led us here are worth revisiting.

IRA activity begins in 2014

In Spring of 2014, the special counsel reports that the IRA started to “consolidate U.S. operations within a single general department” with the internal nickname the “translator.” The report indicates that this is the time the group began to “ramp up” its operations in the U.S. with its sights on the 2016 presidential election.

At this time, the IRA was already running operations across various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Later it would expand its operations to Instagram and Tumblr as well.

Stated anti-Clinton agenda

As the report details, in the early stages of its U.S.-focused political operations, the IRA mostly impersonated U.S. citizens but into 2015 it shifted its strategy to create larger pages and groups that pretended to represent U.S.-based interests and causes, including “anti-immigration groups, Tea Party activists, Black Lives Matter [activists]” among others.

The IRA offered internal guidance to its specialists to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary [Clinton] and the rest (except Sanders and Trump – we support them” in early 2016.

While much of the IRA activity that we’ve reported on directly sowed political discord on divisive domestic issues, the group also had a clearly stated agenda to aid the Trump campaign. When the mission strayed, one IRA operative was criticized for a “lower number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton” and called the goal of intensify criticism of Clinton “imperative.”

That message continued to ramp up on Facebook into late 2016, even as the group also continued its efforts in issued-based activist groups that, as we’ve learned, sometimes inspired or intersected with real life events. The IRA bought a total of 3,500 ads on Facebook for $100,000 — a little less than $30 per ad. Some of the most successful IRA groups had hundreds of thousands of followers. As we know, Facebook shut down many of these operations in August 2017.

IRA operations on Twitter

The IRA used Twitter as well, though its strategy there produced some notably different results. The group’s biggest wins came when it managed to successfully interact with many members of the Trump campaign, as was the case with @TEN_GOP which posed as the “Unofficial Twitter of Tennessee Republicans.” That account earned mentions from a number of people linked to the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump Jr., Brad Parscale and Kellyanne Conway.

As the report describes, and has been previously reported, that account managed to get the attention of Trump himself:

“On September 19, 2017, President Trump’s personal account @realDonaldTrump responded to a tweet from the IRA-controlled account @ l0_gop (the backup account of @TEN_ GOP, which had already been deactivated by Twitter). The tweet read: “We love you, Mr. President!”

The special counsel also notes that “Separately, the IRA operated a network of automated Twitter accounts (commonly referred to as a bot network) that enabled the IRA to amplify existing content on Twitter.”

Real life events

The IRA leveraged both Twitter and Facebook to organize real life events, including three events in New York in 2016 and a series of pro-Trump rallies across both Florida and Pennsylvania in the months leading up the election. The IRA activity includes one event in Miami that the then-candidate Trump’s campaign promoted on his Facebook page.

While we’ve been following revelations around the IRA’s activity for years now, Mueller’s report offers a useful birds-eye overview of how the group’s operations wrought havoc on social networks, achieving mass influence at very little cost. The entire operation exemplified the greatest weaknesses of our social networks — weaknesses that up until companies like Facebook and Twitter began to reckon with their role in facilitating Russian election interference, were widely regarded as their greatest strengths.

Terry Gou will resign as Foxconn’s chairman to run for president of Taiwan

Foxconn chairman Terry Gou officially announced on Wednesday that he will run for president of Taiwan. Gou will step down from leading the company (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd.), one of Apple’s most important manufacturers, in order to campaign for the nomination of the Kuomintang, the pro-China opposition party.

Taiwan’s economy and complicated relationship with China will be at the heart of the 2020 presidential campaign, as incumbent Tsai Ing-wen defends her position against not only candidates from the Kuomintang and other parties, but also a challenger from her own party, the Democratic Progressive Party, William Lai, who entered the race last month.

Gou earlier said that his presidential aspirations had been blessed by Mazu, the sea goddess who is one of the most important Taoist and Buddhist deities. Gou founded Foxconn in 1974 and has held no political office, but his campaign will be helped by his business reputation and reported $7 billion net worth.

Gou’s lack of government experience may be balanced in the mind of voters by his relationships with Donald Trump and China’s government. Foxconn has committed to building a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin. Even though Taiwan’s sovereignty is not recognized by China, which views the country as a rogue province, Foxconn has more plants there than in any other country.

Venezuela is losing a generation of tech talent to its humanitarian crisis

The escalating crisis in Venezuela has seen sky-high hyperinflation, widespread hunger and a large-scale exodus out of the country. The desperate circumstances have led to more than three million Venezuelans leaving the country for a better life. According to recent numbers published by the UN, Latin American countries have doled out around 1.3 million residence permits and other state authorisations to Venezuelans in need.

The impact on the country has been generational and this effect is no different when applied to its tech sector. Once considered one of the centres of wealth and innovation in Latin America, Venezuela’s capital Caracas now stands a shell of its former self, having seen a core of top talent leave for other countries on the continent.

“At the end of the day they’re going to leave,” Daniel Knobelsdorf told us about the situation in Caracas. “Eventually, the market is going to enter a phase of cannibalising itself.”

Knobelsdorf has seen the carnage in Caracas first-hand having spent much of his time within the city’s entrepreneurial circles.

Formerly an advisor to a parliamentary committee on Science, Technology and Innovation in Venezuela, Knobelsdorf is now blockchain strategist for Kruger Corp and has regularly seen Venezuela’s top tech minds–particularly among experienced candidates–find greener pastures elsewhere. “Most of the tech guys here are very junior,” he said, “By the time you get a person going full-stack or getting more senior, they’re going to be leaving for Chile.”

The crisis in Venezuela’s first major symptom was a hyper-inflating currency which not only prevented tech talent migrating from other Latin American nations, it also led to salaries stagnating for local workers; all the way from programmers to executives.

The situation has gotten so extreme that money isn’t counted anymore, it’s weighed, as the sheer amount needed to buy basic goods has lead to widespread poverty within the country.

According to a recent ENCOVI study into living conditions in Venezuela, 87 percent of the country now live under the poverty line. And despite much reporting around the so-called “boom of cryptocurrency” in Venezuela, the country’s inability to find cash for its most experienced workers has led many to look elsewhere.

Venezuela’s economy remains under the shadow of former President Hugo Chavez’s risky policies. Above, a mural in Táchira, Venezuela. Photo by Arjun Harindranath/The Bogotá Post

A 2018 Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) put out by INSEAD last year lays out the cold facts of Venezuela’s “brain drain”. Out of 119 countries, Venezuela came in at number 105 for the ability to compete for talent in specialised professions. Moreover, the country ranked poorly in its ability to attract talent from elsewhere and was at the very bottom when it came to keeping its brightest minds. The tragedy of this ranking becomes all too acute on realising that this result is despite Venezuela’s high education outcomes and highly-educated workforce.

The report also highlighted another common reality for Venezuelans: that of an uncertain security situation and the rampant rise of crime in the country. From safety while travelling on the city’s public transport, to the constant danger of muggings, many have now decided to move on from their homeland for a more secure future.

This also contributes to a larger problem — the crumbling infrastructure necessary for tech companies and professionals to continue working in the country. Venezuela was known to be one of the Latin American countries with the best internet connectivity in the past. But now, with frequent power outages and irregular coverage, many companies have looked to opt out of the country. A recent study also showed that internet speed within Caracas now stands at less than half of the average speed within Latin American countries.

A family walks towards a better life in Colombia. The crisis has led many families to leave their country, often on foot. Photo by Arjun Harindranath/The Bogotá Post

In addition to companies and multinationals having left the country as a result of the crisis, the country’s top scientific minds too have followed suit

According to a new article in Scientific American, this science “brain drain” has its roots in the Chavez regime when former President Hugo Chavez fired employees of PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company, after they went on strike against his radical policies. This then led to a first wave of mass migration of the country’s scientists to the US.

Under his successor Nicolás Maduro things didn’t pick up for scientific research either, with funding all but evaporating. This trend also applied to universities where low salaries–as low as US$18 a month–have led to large scale walkouts in both public and private institutions in Venezuela.

Although many of the earlier waves of migration left for the US. Others chose Latin American countries that were more developed and willing to take in Venezuelan professionals. Jorge Pacheco was one such worker having joined as a developer at intive-FDV in Buenos Aires, as part of the company’s active recruitment of Venezuelan labour.  “The level of formation is much higher in Argentina and much more technical. It really gives us a chance to learn more by being here as all the larger companies are from Argentina,” Pacheco said.

The Argentine company, that creates software-based solutions for enterprise companies, now has 10% of its workforce originating from Venezuela and, looking more specifically for programmers for their office in Buenos Aires, intive-FDV has found the program a success in increasing the diversity of their workforce.

Although Pacheco was one of the luckier ones, others can’t immediately walk into tech jobs on leaving the country. Across the continent, many tech and science grads have had to look for what work they can find, be it teaching, driving ride-shares working at restaurants or smaller jobs like cleaning houses to get by.  

Colombia, having taken the lion’s share of Venezuelan nationals following the crisis, has seen a large influx into their informal economy. With over a million Venezuelans choosing to call their western neighbour home, it also comes as little surprise that Venezuelans would also be among Colombia’s tech ecosystem as well.

Francisco Fernandez came to, Medellin, Colombia around 18 months ago. His heart condition along with Venezuela’s failing healthcare system made the choice to leave a difficult but necessary step. His fortune came in the fact that The History Channel (Español) took him on as an animator on a remote contract, allowing him to work anywhere in the world. Like many media professionals and companies–including Latina Productions and VC Media–Fernandez chose Colombia for its ease of access to his home country.

“I’d like to go back soon,” Fernandez says. “There’s a generation that’s probably lost but I think many people in the tech sector will want to return. I know a lot of people in good positions at good companies that want to return when Venezuela gets better.”

Which is perhaps why it’s so crucial that Venezuela’s brightest minds do find firmer, safer footholds elsewhere to give Venezuela a fighting chance when it finally finds political and economic stability. Recent worrying events are likely to ramp up the mass flight from Venezuela, with their technological sector looking to suffer along with it. A turning point, when it finally arrives, will no doubt look to Venezuela’s diaspora to rebuild what has been destroyed.

The responsibility for a sustainable digital future

On March 12, 2019, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the “World Wide Web”, Tim Berners-Lee’s ground-breaking invention.

In just thirty years, this flagship application of the Internet has forever changed our lives, our habits, our way of thinking and seeing the world. Yet, this anniversary leaves a bittersweet taste in our mouth: the initial decentralized and open version of the Web, which was meant to allow users to connect with each other, has gradually evolved to a very different version, centralized in the hands of giants who capture our data and impose their standards.

We have poured our work, our hearts and a lot of our lives out on the internet. For better or for worse. Beyond business uses for Big Tech, our data has become an incredible resource for malicious actors, who use this windfall to hack, steal and threaten. Citizens, small and large companies, governments: online predators spare no one. This initial mine of information and knowledge has provided fertile ground for dangerous abuse: hate speech, cyber-bullying, manipulation of information or apology for terrorism – all of them amplified, relayed and disseminated across borders.

Laissez-faire or control: between Scylla and Charybdis

Faced with these excesses, some countries have decided to regain control over the Web and the Internet in general: by filtering information and communications, controlling the flow of data, using digital instruments for the sake of sovereignty and security. The outcome of this approach is widespread censorship and surveillance. A major threat to our values ​​and our vision of society, this project of “cyber-sovereignty” is also the antithesis of the initial purpose of the Web, which was built in a spirit of openness and emancipation. Imposing cyber-borders and permanent supervision would be fatal to the Web.

To avoid such an outcome, many democracies have favored laissez-faire and minimal intervention, preserving the virtuous circle of profit and innovation. Negative externalities remain, with self-regulation as the only barrier. But laissez-faire is no longer the best option to foster innovation: ​​data is monopolized by giants that have become systemic, users’ freedom of choice is limited by vertical integration and lack of interoperability. Ineffective competition threatens our economies’ ability to innovate.

In addition, laissez-faire means being vulnerable to those who have chosen a more interventionist or hostile stance. This question is particularly acute today for infrastructures: should we continue to remain agnostic, open and to choose a solution only based on its economic competitiveness? Or should we affirm the need to preserve our technological sovereignty and our security?

Internet of Things connecting in cloud over city scape.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/chombosan

Paving a third way

To avoid these pitfalls, France, Europe and all democratic countries must take control of their digital future. This age of digital maturity involves both smart digital regulation and enhanced technological sovereignty.

Holding large actors accountable is a legitimate and necessary first step: “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Platforms that relay and amplify the audience of dangerous content must assume a stronger role in information and prevention. The same goes for e-commerce, when consumers’ health and safety is undermined by dangerous or counterfeit products, made available to them with one click. We should apply the same focus on systemic players in the field of competition: vertical integration should not hinder users’ choice of goods, services or content.

But for our action to be effective and leave room for innovation, we must design a “smart regulation”. Of course, our goal is not to impose on all digital actors an indiscriminate and disproportionate normative burden.

Rather, “smart regulation” relies on transparency, auditability and accountability of the largest players, in the framework of a close dialogue with public authorities. With this is mind, France has launched a six-month experiment with Facebook on the subject of hate content, the results of which will contribute to current and upcoming legislative work on this topic.

In the meantime, in order to maintain our influence and promote this vision, we will need to strengthen our technological sovereignty. In Europe, this sovereignty is already undermined by the prevalence of American and Asian actors. As our economies and societies become increasingly connected, the question becomes more urgent.

Investments in the most strategic disruptive technologies, construction of an innovative normative framework for the sharing of data of general interest: we have leverage to encourage the emergence of reliable and effective solutions. But we will not be able to avoid protective measures when the security of our infrastructure is likely to be endangered.

To build this sustainable digital future together, I invite my G7 counterparts to join me in Paris on May 16th. On the agenda, three priorities: the fight against online hate, a human-centric artificial intelligence, and ensuring trust in our digital economy, with the specific topics of 5G and data sharing.

Our goal? To take responsibility. Gone are the days when we could afford to wait and see.

Our leverage? If we join our wills and forces, our values can prevail.

We all have the responsibility to design a World Wide Web of Trust. It is still within our reach but the time has come to act.

Amazon reportedly nixes its price parity requirement for third-party sellers in the U.S.

Amazon will stop forbidding third-party merchants who list on its e-commerce platform in the United States from selling the same products on other sites for lower prices, reports Axios.

The company’s decision to end its price parity provision comes three months after Sen. Richard Blumenthal urged the Department of Justice to open an antitrust investigation into Amazon’s policies and a few days after Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced she would make breaking up Amazon, Google and Facebook a big part of her campaign platform.

Also called “most favored nation” (MFN) requirements, Amazon’s price parity provisions gave it a competitive edge, but because of its size, also led to concerns about its impact on competition and fair pricing for consumers. Amazon stopped requiring price parity of its European Union sellers in 2013 after it was the subject of investigations by the United Kingdom’s Office of Fair Trading and Germany’s Federal Cartel Office.

In a statement, Blumenthal said Amazon’s “wise and welcome decision comes only after aggressive advocacy and attention that compelled Amazon to abandon its abusive contract clause.” He added that “I remain deeply troubled that federal regulators responsible for cracking down on anti-competitive practices seem asleep at the wheel, at great cost to American innovation and consumers.”

TechCrunch has contacted Amazon for comment.

Saudi Arabia denies involvement in leak of Jeff Bezos’ private messages

In his extraordinary Medium post last week accusing American Media Inc of “extortion and blackmail,” Bezos hinted (but did not explicitly state) that there may be a connection between Saudi Arabia and the publication of his personal messages with Lauren Sanchez. Now Saudi Arabia’s minister of foreign affairs has denied it was involved, stating during an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the Saudi government had “nothing to do with it.”

Last month, the National Enquirer published a series of texts between Bezos, who is separated from wife MacKenzie Bezos, and Sanchez. In his post last Thursday, Bezos claimed AMI, the owner of the National Enquirer, threatened to release messages that included intimate photos unless he cancelled an investigation into the source of the leaks and stopped claiming AMI was “politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” Bezos wrote that “the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve with” AMI CEO David Pecker, a close associate of President Donald Trump.

(The Daily Beast reported earlier today that Lauren Sanchez’s brother Michael Sanchez was the original source of the messages. Michael Sanchez is a close friend of Trump adviser Roger Stone.)

During his interview with “Face the Nation,” al-Jubeir said “This sounds to me like a soap opera. I’ve been watching it on television and reading about it in the paper. This is something between the two parties. We have nothing to do with it.”

Bezos did not directly accuse Saudi Arabia of being involved in the leaks, but he did note the web of connections between AMI, Pecker, Trump and Saudi Arabia. Bezos owns the Washington Post, which has reported extensively on the connection between crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian dissident who wrote opinion pieces critical of bin Salman for the Post before he was killed in October. Though the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that bin Salman ordered the killing, Trump has repeatedly downplayed or disputed the crown prince’s involvement.

“Here’s a piece of context: My ownership of the Washington Post is a complexifier for me. It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy,” Bezos wrote. “President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.”

He added “Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”

AMI reached an immunity deal with the Department of Justice in December over a hush money payment to Karen McDougal, who claimed she had an affair with Trump. If Bezos’ accusations of blackmail and extortion are true, its deal could be jeopardized.

Pecker’s lawyer Elkan Abramowitz told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, before the Daily Beast named Michael Sanchez as the National Enquirer’s source, that “it is absolutely not extortion and blackmail. The story was given to the National Enquirer by a reliable source that had been giving information to the National Enquirer for seven years prior to this story. It was a source that was well-known to both Mr. Bezos and Miss Sanchez.”

Politiscope, an app to track Congressional voting records and bills, launches on android devices

Last September, two former National Football League players launched an app called Politiscope to track the voting records of members of Congress and the bills that they were introducing — and provide non-partisan information about what those bills and votes would mean to voters.

The pro-football-playing brothers, Walter Powell Jr. and Brandon Williams, launched the app to provide an accurate accounting of what Congressional leadership was doing — something the two felt was necessary given the political climate and the ways in which the traditional sources of education on political issues were being called into question.

“A claim of ‘Fake News’ from the current national leaders in response to unflattering news threatens this nation’s democracy and the concept that this great nation was built upon,” said Powell in a statement when the app first launched in September.

Now the two brothers are expanding Politiscope’s reach by launching the Android version of the service.

While the scope of Politiscope may be expanding, the brothers make clear that the company’s mission is still the same. To provide unbiased information sourced from places like the Congressional Budget Office, the Library of Congress, and the Pew Research Center.

Politiscope has two main features in the app.

The first is its “Today in Congress” section, which provides information on all of the proposed legislation that’s making its way through the House of Representatives and the Senate. The app summarizes the bills and gives statements from Republicans and Democrats on how they view the bill that’s been proposed.

The second feature is its profiles of elected officials. The profiles include voting records, business records and other information culled from Federal records and publicly available information to give voters a clear picture of their representatives in government based solely on data.

“Unless you’re studying the actual legislation, it’s almost impossible to find a good source of political information that isn’t at least somewhat slanted, either to the right or the left,” says Powell. “Today’s media is becoming more and more widely split along liberal and conservative lines, and political rhetoric is growing increasingly devoid of clear and objective information. Politiscope exists to eliminate bias and help people understand what’s actually going on in the world of U.S. politics.”