December 22, 2021
You've made it to the last Login of 2021. We will be off for the holidays, but back in your inbox on Jan. 3. In the meantime, we'll continue to cover the tech (and other) news that matters over on Axios.com.
Today's newsletter is 1,168 words, a 4-minute read.
1 big thing: Americans want government action on tech
Big majorities of Americans think tech companies are too big and too nosy and want government to rein them in, an exclusive poll by Axios and the Illinois Institute of Technology finds.
Why it matters: As technology's role in American life increases, people on both sides of today's political divide have grown wary of its influence, as Ashley Gold reports.
The big picture: A majority of the 1,500 survey respondents expressed concern about the use of artificial intelligence, the reach of algorithms, the state of their online privacy, the size of tech firms and dependence on smartphones.
Artificial intelligence: More than 70% of those polled distrust the use of AI for self-driving buses and airplane autopilot systems. (Early autopilot systems in airplanes have existed since 1912.)
- Sixty-nine percent said they would limit the use of AI for hiring decisions. Nearly 60% distrust AI for processing loan applications and setting mortgage rates.
- Both liberals and conservatives overwhelmingly agree that there should be public or government oversight of the use of algorithms (71%).
Antitrust and consolidation of power: Three-quarters of those polled said tech companies are too big (80% of liberals and 83% of conservatives).
- A smaller 53% of respondents said the government should be responsible for ensuring competition and more choices in online services.
Privacy: Most poll respondents (78%) said they feel they are targeted in online ads based on their web activity. And 50% said they think they're targeted for online ads based on their offline conversations.
- Eighty-one percent think the government should be doing more to protect online privacy.
Smartphone dependence: More than half of those polled (56%) believe they are somewhat dependent on their smartphones. A smaller percentage (31%) say they feel anxiety or withdrawal without their devices.
What they're saying: "We’re in a situation in which we already depend so deeply on technology for all of these aspects of our day-to-day lives, but at the same time, we have a deep distrust of this same tech," said Christine Himes, dean of Lewis College of Science and Letters at Illinois Tech.
- "[The results] may be indicative of increasing distrust for all institutions, whether they are secular, religious, governmental, private or public," said George M. Langlois, executive director of the Center for Research and Service at Illinois Tech. "It does seem the public wants more control and is open to support changes that reflect that.”
What we're watching: Government agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission want to make rules for online advertising, the use of algorithms and AI and the size of tech companies.
- But to achieve those goals they'll likely need a sluggish Congress to grant them new powers.
Go deeper: Read the full survey results.
2. Log4j attacks will expand, experts warn
Attacks based on a flaw in the widely used Log4j open-source library have continued in the week since the vulnerability was disclosed publicly. And cybersecurity experts warn there's no end in sight.
Why it matters: The problematic piece of code is used in hundreds of different pieces of enterprise software and networking gear, making it challenging for companies and governments to identify and patch all their affected systems.
Catch up quick: Government officials and security executives have been sounding the alarm over the issue, noting it likely affects hundreds of millions of systems and is easily exploited.
What's new: In an update on Tuesday, Sophos said the vast majority of attacks have come from China and Russia, with just one domain, associated with a Russian cryptocurrency mining organization, accounting for 11% of attacks.
- "What is certain is that we have not seen a significant reduction in exploit attempts since they peaked on December 15, and that these probes and exploits are coming from a globally distributed infrastructure," Sophos' Sean Gallagher said in a blog post.
Between the lines: There are hundreds of software and network products that remain vulnerable, Gallagher tells Axios, noting that some, but not all, have workarounds.
- "There’s still an extraordinarily large attack surface available, and we may not know its extent for weeks or months," Gallagher says.
Of note: The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastucture Agency has released an open-source scanner tool to help companies and agencies find Log4j instances within their systems.
The bottom line: "We keep saying that these events are a 'wake up call,' but all we have been doing is hitting the snooze button," says Mehul Revankar, a VP and security expert at Qualys.
- Revankar called the flaw "the single most vicious vulnerability" he has seen in two decades of work in cybersecurity.
Go deeper: 2021 was the year cybersecurity became everyone's problem
3. CES organizers press on despite Omicron
The Consumer Technology Association said Tuesday that it is going ahead with next month's CES trade show in Las Vegas even as a number of tech companies and publications say they won't be sending their employees.
Why it matters: The annual consumer electronics trade show is a key gathering point for the industry, but the pandemic forced it to go virtual in 2021.
- "CES will still take place Jan. 5-8 in Las Vegas with strong safety measures in place," the Consumer Technology Association said in a statement to Axios.
- "Thousands of entrepreneurs, businesses, media and buyers are planning to come to Las Vegas. Top leaders from federal and state and foreign governments are attending," the group said, adding that it has "received several thousand new registrants since late last week."
Yes, but: Lots of tech companies and media organizations say they won't be in attendance.
- Amazon said late Monday that it won't be attending. Meta, Twitter and Pinterest are also skipping the show, per Reuters. T-Mobile is vastly scaling back its presence, including canceling a planned keynote from CEO Mike Sievert.
- A number of the big names in tech media plan to cover the show entirely remotely, including CNET, Engadget, The Verge, TechCrunch, IGN and TechRadar.
- Samsung was noncommittal, but said it is considering a smaller on-site delegation as it prioritizes worker health: "The health and safety of our employees and attendees is our top priority heading into CES 2022."
Be smart: The organizers of CES tried to push forward with the 2021 event in person before finally shifting to virtual.
The big picture: Tech companies have been adjusting their plans in the wake of the Omicron variant. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and Meta have all postponed a widespread return of workers to corporate offices.
4. Take note
- Alexander MacGillivray, who worked in the White House office of science and technology policy under President Obama, is returning to OSTP as principle deputy U.S. chief technology officer. The Biden Administration has yet to fill the CTO spot, as MacGillivray notes in his Twitter thread.
- OnlyFans CEO Tim Stokely is stepping down, handing the reins to the company's head of marketing and communications, Ami Gan.
- Meta is buying ImagineOptix, a small North Carolina company working on liquid crystal lenses for mixed reality headsets. (The Information)
- AT&T is selling Xandr, its ad-tech unit, to Microsoft. (Axios)
5. After you Login
Check out this tower in China where Thyssenkrupp tests elevators.