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Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,176 words, <5 minute read.
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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
There are millions of surveillance cameras in the U.S., but not nearly enough eyes to watch them all. When you pass one on the street, you can rightly expect your actions to go unnoticed in the moment; footage is instead archived for review if something goes wrong, Kaveh reports.
But now, AI software can flag behavior it deems suspicious in real-time surveillance feeds, or pinpoint minute events in past footage — as if each feed were being watched unblinkingly by its own hyper-attentive security guard. The new technology, if it spreads in the U.S., could put an American twist on Orwellian surveillance systems abroad.
Big picture: In a new report today, ACLU surveillance expert Jay Stanley describes a coming mass awakening of millions of cameras, powered by anodyne-sounding "video analytics."
Collecting data has become dirt cheap, but attention has remained a scarce, expensive resource — especially for analyzing video, Stanley says. That's what is changing.
Quick take: This new software democratizes high-powered surveillance — once the purview of wealthy governments and organizations. Companies are selling it effectively as "surveillance in a box" for far cheaper than hiring video analysts.
Police, retailers, railroads and even carmakers are installing various shades of this software. And we've written about its use in schools.
How it works: The software is marketed as being able to:
The danger: Losing anonymity in public can change the way people behave, experts say, much like China's omnipresent surveillance can cause residents to constantly look over their shoulders.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
For all the talk of antitrust investigations, the bigger threat to tech platforms like Google and Facebook is an intensifying call from Congress to revamp a law that shields them and other web companies from legal liability for users' posts, Kaveh reports.
Driving the news: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff today joined a motley group of policymakers calling to reconsider the legal protections afforded to tech platforms. It's a broadening of a line of attack that caught fire last year when a new law made it easier to sue tech platforms for hosting sex-trafficking ads.
The big picture: Social media companies are taking hits from every direction for allowing hate speech, false information and now fake video to mushroom on their sites. But legally, they're in the clear even when hosting the most odious content.
Be smart, per Axios' David McCabe: Lawmakers have been threatening broad changes to the immunity law for over a year but haven't advanced any legislative proposals doing so. At this point, it's more potent leverage than it is something they've been willing to get moving.
Details: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects companies that carry user-generated content — like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other sites — from bearing legal liability for what their users post.
After a hearing today on national security implications of deepfakes — AI-manipulated videos — Schiff told reporters:
"If the social media companies can't exercise a proper standard of care when it comes to a whole variety of fraudulent or illicit content, then we have to think about whether that immunity still makes sense. These are not nascent industries or companies that are struggling for viability — they're now behemoths, and we need them to act responsibly."
One idea for how to update the law comes from Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor who has written extensively about deepfakes and was a witness at today's hearing.
What's next: If this idea picks up steam again in Congress, expect Big Tech — including any site that hosts user comments and reviews, user-written ads, or videos and photos — to fight tooth and nail to keep its Section 230 immunity.
A Beyond Meat burger. Photo: Adam Berry/Getty
The race to own the booming fake meat business is heating up.
The latest news: Two of the biggest American meat producers — Tyson Foods and Perdue — say they will market faux and hybrid chicken nuggets.
The big picture: The popularity of faux meat has surprised almost everyone. There is a nationwide U.S. shortage of Impossible Burgers, and Beyond Meat shares have more than quintupled from the IPO price in May.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
How bookstores saved themselves from Amazon (Frederick Studemann — FT)
Uber's plans are in the air — really (Joann Muller — Axios)
The day the music burned (Jody Rosen — NYT Magazine)
The new Silicon Valley problem: Chinese money (Rolfe Winkler — WSJ)
The Lehman allegory (Sarah Churchwell — NY Review of Books)
Image: Hans Weiditz/Print Collector/Getty
Today, Xerxes is not a household name. But back in the fifth century B.C., the Persian king cut quite a swath through the Middle East before being assassinated by his bodyguard under not-quite-clear circumstances.
It was Wilhelm Röntgen, discoverer of X-rays in 1895, who dethroned Xerxes the second time.