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Axios Login

This week Login is publishing on a reduced schedule — we'll be in your inbox again on Wednesday and Friday.

And for today, we bring you 1,335 words, a 5-minute read.

1. Tech agenda: The push for a "PBS of the internet"

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The concept of a new media ecosystem that's non-profit, publicly funded and tech-infused is drawing interest in policy circles as a way to shift the power dynamics in today's information wars, Kim Hart reports. (This will be her last "Tech Agenda" column. Axios OG Kim is leaving for new adventures, and we bid her a fond farewell.)

Why it matters: Revamping the structure and role of public media could be part of the solution to shoring up local media, decentralizing the distribution of quality news, and constraining Big Tech platforms' amplification of harmful or false information.

Flashback: Congress in 1967 authorized federal operating money to broadcast stations through a new agency, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and what is now PBS launched down-the-middle national news programming and successful kids shows like "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Sesame Street." NPR was born in 1971.

  • Despite dust-ups over political interference of national programming and funding, hundreds of local community broadcast stations primarily received grants directly to choose which national programs to support.

Driving the news: A new policy paper from the German Marshall Fund proposes a full revamp of the CPB to fund not just broadcast stations, but a wide range of digital platforms and potential content producers, including independent journalists, local governments, nonprofits and educational institutions.

  • The idea is to increase the diversity of local civic information, leaning on anchor institutions like libraries and colleges that communities trust.
  • Beyond content, the plan calls for open protocol standards and APIs to let consumers mix and match the content they want from a wide variety of sources, rather than being at the mercy of Facebook, Twitter or YouTube algorithms.
  • Data would be another crucial component. In order to operate, entities in the ecosystem would have to commit to basic data ethics and rules about how personal information is used.

"It's about power. We don't want government to tell the platforms what to do, but we don't want the platforms to have the power to deplatform" and decide which voices get heard, said Ellen Goodman, co-author of the report, a professor at Rutgers Law School, and founder and director of the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law.

  • "No one thinks the most efficient way to do things was to have a gazillion broadcast stations, but it was to decentralize power. So what would that look like on the internet?"

Reality check: Allowing people to "tune" their own content preference dials could exacerbate filter bubbles.

  • Still, the authors say the involvement of local trusted institutions in the creation and amplification of civic information — from public health updates to local election news — could improve people's overall media diet and exposure "so it's not just a battle of government vs. platform," Goodman said.

What they're saying: "There absolutely has to be a much bigger role for nonprofit media, with public media as a subset of that, than there has been in the past," said Steve Waldman, CEO of Report for America.

  • While today's public media predominantly skews toward broadcasting, which requires licenses from the FCC, the modern version can use a variety of funding sources and digital tools that don't rely on the same rigid infrastructure.

In a 2020 article, Waldman called for "thousands of mini-SPANs," by using streaming technologies to broadcast public meetings the way C-SPAN does for congressional hearings.

Be smart: The debate over misinformation and disinformation is primarily focused on who gets to decide whether content is good or bad — an unwinnable battle.

  • Revamping the underlying infrastructure that amplifies quality content — drawing on trusted local institutions and independent content producers — could give citizens a new source of news that doesn't rely solely on platform algorithms or polarized commercial outlets.
2. Nonbinary trans WNBA player to keynote tech conference

Layshia Clarendon. Photo: David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Anitab.org, the group behind the annual Grace Hopper conference, is announcing today that among its keynote speakers will be Layshia Clarendon, an out transgender and nonbinary basketball player for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, Axios' Ina Fried reports.

Why it matters: Organizers say it's part of a broader effort by the conference to be both inclusive and intersectional, recognizing that the challenges faced by women in tech are tied to those that other underrepresented groups encounter.

Clarendon will speak at this year's Grace Hopper Celebration, an all-online event taking place Sept. 27 to Oct. 1.

What they're saying: In an interview with Axios, Clarendon acknowledged that they are an unlikely choice to keynote a tech conference, joking they can barely work his iPhone. (Clarendon uses he, she and they pronouns interchangeably. For clarity, this story will use "they" throughout.)

But Clarendon said they do have some thoughts on how the tech industry could better serve society.

  • In particular, Clarendon says they would like to see the tech industry do a better job protecting people in underrepresented groups from online harassment.

They note that society is encouraging people to be their authentic selves but then not changing the way online systems work, leaving already vulnerable groups to fend for themselves. Clarendon has basically stopped checking their online mentions on Twitter and other platforms, they say.

  • "It became so gross and hard," Clarendon said in an interview.

Go deeper: Clarendon was among the athletes who spoke to Axios about how this year's Tokyo Olympics represent a milestone for transgender and nonbinary representation in sports.

3. Zoom settles privacy lawsuit for $85 million

Zoom agreed to pay $85 million and fortify its privacy features to settle a lawsuit claiming the company violated users' privacy rights by sharing data with tech companies and allowing uninvited intruders on Zoom meetings, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Zoom became many people's go-to platform for both work and social interaction during the pandemic, but this isn't the first time the platform has been asked to step up its privacy measures, as Axios' Ivana Saric reports.

State of play: The class action lawsuit was filed in March 2020 and is one of several legal challenges facing the company, reports the BBC.

  • The suit alleges that the video conferencing platform shared millions of users' data with Facebook, Google and LinkedIn. It also alleges that Zoom incorrectly claimed to offer end-to-end encryption and failed to stop "zoombombing," per the BBC.
  • "Zoombombing," when third-party users jump into Zoom calls to disrupt them, often with graphic or disturbing content, became a concern in the early days of the pandemic.

The big picture: Despite agreeing to pay $85 million in the preliminary settlement filed Saturday, the company did not admit to any wrongdoing, according to Reuters.

What to watch: The settlement still needs to be approved by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California.

4. AI's pandemic fail

AI-based algorithms that aimed to help diagnose COVID-19 failed in the field, MIT Technology Review reports.

Driving the news: Two separate U.K. studies found that none of the AI systems tested during the pandemic were suitable for clinical use. The biggest factors behind the failures were problems with data.

  • In one example, a model trained on a data set that included patients standing up and lying down. "Because patients scanned while lying down were more likely to be seriously ill, the AI learned wrongly to predict serious COVID risk from a person's position," per Technology Review.
  • Some AIs zeroed in on the typeface different hospitals used to label scans, and concluded that the fonts used by hospitals with worse cases were good predictors of COVID risk.

The most important remedy for such flaws, one researcher told Technology Review, would be for AI developers need to collaborate more closely with clinicians.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • The Black Hat security conference runs through Thursday in Las Vegas (and online), followed by DEF CON.

Trading Places

  • Brian Miller joins Adobe as chief talent, diversity and inclusion officer. Miller previously serves as chief people officer for Impossible Foods.

ICYMI

  • Square is buying Afterpay, an Australia-based buy-now, pay-later service, for $29 billion in an all-stock deal. (Reuters)
6. After you Login

Mark Rober built a robot that arranged 100,000 dominoes into a "Super Mario Bros." mural in 24 hours. The robot places dominoes in batches — 300 at a time. (Via The Verge)