Tech News

Microsoft’s ICE involvement illustrates tech’s denial problem

June 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Nearly a decade ago, I had the good fortune of being one of the last people to interview the founder of Commodore International, Jack Tramiel (famous for Commodore computers and the popular C64), before he passed away. At 83 he died from heart failure after pioneering the consumer market for personal computers and home gaming, and working toward changing people’s lives for the better through technology.

What few people knew, and what I discovered in our interview, was that the foundational concept driving the Commodore 64 was Tramiel’s vision for a future in which the Holocaust and its concentration camps (from which Jack survived but his father did not) would never be able to happen again.

In our interview Mr. Tramiel told me:

I made the market for the computer youth-driven. I went around the world meeting young people in computer clubs and showing them what the computer can do.

And I concentrated on a special country which is called Germany. Because I am a Holocaust survivor.

And because of that I wanted to make sure that the German youth will learn from the computer what the Holocaust was all about. And we had a piece of software which did that.

At the same event I also interviewed Bill Lowe, father of IBM PC. While Jack Tramiel was rounded up at the age of 11 and shipped with his parents to Auschwitz in 1944, IBM and its subsidiaries helped create enabling technologies for the Third Reich; from identification of Jews in censuses, registrations, and ancestral tracing programs, to the running of railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labor. IBM founder Thomas Watson’s custom-designed complex data solutions are how Hitler got everyone’s names, identities, and locations for his brownshirts to round up, put in work camps, torture, and murder.

You have to wonder what kind of people worked for IBM during this time. It’s possible to suggest that they weren’t completely aware of what they were really part of. Especially considering IBM’s structured denials and, as the New York Times self-describes as its “staggering, staining failure [of The New York Times] to depict Hitler’s methodical extermination of the Jews of Europe as a horror beyond all other horrors.”

(The reporting was there, but it was couched in softened language, ran against the paper’s incorrect opinion that Hitler couldn’t really be a racist, and buried deep behind culture features about Hitler and his positive polling numbers.)

More than asking what kind of people would work in a tech capacity to provide technical solutions for genocide, it’s interesting to wonder how they felt about it. Was the suffering of others an abstract, or were they more like former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, mocking and pointedly indifferent? Perhaps they felt like Microsoft employees, some of whom this week repudiated the company between news of the US government’s human rights violations in regard to immigrants and asylum-seekers, and Microsoft’s role

Tech News

California Rep. requests 23andMe to help reunite children with families

June 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters

California Representative Jackie Speier reportedly asked DNA-testing company 23andMe to help reunite children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border due to Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policies. She told Buzzfeed that she was concerned with the lack of records for families that have been split up, but it was unclear if, or to what extent, the genetics company would get involved.

“If they’re under two, they don’t know [who their parents are]. It’s horrible,” Speier told Buzzfeed, regarding the children affected by the policy. As to whether 23andMe will help, she said “They were going to think about it.”

When reached for comment, a 23andMe spokesperson shared this statement. “We are more than happy to support efforts that can help with the tragic separation of thousands of children from their parents. Connecting and uniting families is core to our mission and something we care deeply about.” Further, the company’s spokesperson tweeted out her and the company’s support:

We’ve heard from many of our customers that they would like to see 23andMe help reunite family members that were tragically separated from each other. Connecting and uniting families is core to the mission of 23andMe. We would welcome any opportunity to help.

— Anne Wojcicki (@annewoj23) June 21, 2018

Whether or not the company decides to aid that search, there are other concerns for performing DNA tests on children, from privacy questions to getting consent from minors, StatNews opined. We’ve reached out to the office of Rep. Speier for further comment and will update when we hear back.

Tech News

Just tweeting a story with WH advisor's number could get you blocked (updated)

June 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

White House adviser Stephen Miller is widely regarded as the person behind the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy that has taken children away from parents accused of attempting to enter the country illegally. Earlier today, Gizmodo Media Group site Splinter wrote a story titled ‘Here’s Stephen Miller’s Cell Phone Number, If You Need It’ and tweeted out the digits from their official account for good measure. But it seems that those who are simply linking to that story (not repeating the number themselves) are getting temporarily blocked by Twitter, too.

this stupid website is run by babies

— Jon Eiseman (@Jon_Eiseman) June 20, 2018

Twitter is apparently treating this as a violation of its terms of service, which forbid posting personal contact information for public and private figures. Previously, the platform only flagged and removed tweets that directly include such info, but users are reporting that even linking to the Splinter story got their accounts temporarily blocked. This has happened before when tweets included URLs to uploaded files or documents, but not to a mainstream media article.

Twitter confirmed to Engadget that it is temporarily blocking individuals linking to the Splinter story. When reached for comment, a spokesperson said: “We are aware of this and are taking appropriate action on content that violates our Terms of Service.”

In some cases, those who have found themselves blocked by Twitter need to delete their offending tweets to even start the countdown before their account functionality is restored after a ban period. And yet, a simple search on Twitter reveals tweet after tweet that include Miller’s purported cell number, raising the question of whether the social platform can — or will — block each of these accounts.

Update: A Twitter spokesperson has responded, and said the company decided that since the number is no longer valid, it will not lock accounts linking to the post.

It’s against our policies to share other people’s private information on Twitter, including directly linking to that information. Today, we temporarily blocked accounts that shared this information until they deleted the Tweet that violated our rules. At this time, the number that was previously being shared is no longer a valid number and, as such, we are no longer enforcing our policy against individuals Tweeting or linking to that information.

Gaming News

This Powerful ACLU Animated Series Will Prepare You for an Encounter With ICE Agents

June 20, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0


A scene of two ICE agents accosting an undocumented woman.Image: ACLU

Agents from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are routinely rounding up people suspected of being undocumented, often separating them from their children, and detaining them in what are essentially internment camps—all without due process. A new animated series wants to help make sure people have some important information about these types of situations.

An incredibly significant part of the problem facing undocumented people and other marginalized groups frequently targeted by ICE is the fact that often, people are unfamiliar with the rights and protections they’re legally required to have access to, like the ability to speak with a lawyer or that ICE agents cannot enter their homes without a warrant signed by a judge. Together, the ACLU, Immigrant Defense Project, and Brooklyn Defender Services are working to make this and other crucial information more widely-known in an animated video series titled We Have Rights.


Each of the shorts features real-life scenarios involving people being confronted by ICE and provides key information about what to do. If, for example, someone claiming to be with the agency cannot provide the proper warrant, you are not legally required to let them into your home. The videos also make a point of stating that it’s not at all uncommon for ICE agents to lie or use deceptive tactics to lull a person into a sense of security before attempting to detain them.

Though the videos are public service announcements, they’re also works of art, animated by the Chilean production house FLUORfilms; they are as gorgeous as they are necessary, now more than ever. Visually, the shorts have a fluid storybook quality to them reminiscent of Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner. The settings as each scenario opens are purposefully familiar and domestic—places where you can easily envision yourself or your loved ones—in order to emphasize that ICE comes into communities that we’re all part of and regularly tears families apart.

In a public statement about the campaign, ACLU campaign strategist explained that the aim of the videos is to empower immigrants in particular at a time when ICE, as an agency, is not strictly following the rule of law:

“ICE has a disturbing history of crossing the line and we want immigrants to know that they are protected under the Constitution.”


In order to make sure that We Have Rights reaches the widest audience, the entire series is narrated in English, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Haitian Creole, and Urdu by a variety of celebrities, including Jesse Williams, Diane Guerrero, and Kumail Nanjiani.

Every We Have Rights video makes a point of stating that following its advice isn’t a guarantee that a person won’t be detained by ICE, but in situations like these, knowing your rights is one of the best possible ways to protect yourself.


Tech News

Fundraiser to reunite immigrant families is largest in Facebook history

June 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Getty Images

In the last six weeks, the Trump administration’s strategy to separate children while criminally prosecuting parents for attempting to cross the southern US border illegally has led the government to take almost 2,000 youth from their families to camps and foster homes across the country. This has ignited a furor over the last week, and people have voted with their wallets. A Facebook fundraiser dedicated to reuniting these families is the largest in the social media platform’s history and has raised $10.5 million to date since launching on June 16th.

The campaign was created by Bay Area couple Charlotte and Dave WIllner to benefit the Texas-based nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), which provides low-cost legal services, advocacy and support to families in the state. The couple had seen the now-infamous photo of a crying toddler at the border and set a fundraising goal of $1,500 with donation matching by private donors, but over 250,000 individuals have donated 6,800 times that amount in the past five days.

RAICES will use the funds to legally represent immigrant families and paying parents’ bond so they can be released from detention centers and recover their children, according to The New York Times. The organization has around 50 lawyers on staff and will hire and train more who are willing to travel and assist.

Despite Trump’s insistence over the last week that Congress needed to fix this crisis created by his administrative policies, not preexisting law, he announced an executive order today that would stop family separation at the US-Mexico border. The Presidential action, reportedly drafted by embattled DHS secretary Kirstjen Nieseln, would allow families to be housed together while the adults are detained or prosecuted for entering the country illegally. According to CNBC, he told press at a White House event today that “I’ll be doing something that’s somewhat preemptive and ultimately will be matched by legislation I’m sure.”

Gaming News

Where to Volunteer, Donate, and Protest to Fight Family Separation at the Border

June 18, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0


Photo: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

The Trump administration is separating children from their parents through two new policies, keeping children in cages, and lying about all of it. This may seem like a massive problem that you can’t help to solve. But you can, with your time, money, skills, or just a phone call.

Slate has a long list of organizations fighting the separation of immigrant families, which could all use donations or volunteer work (especially from lawyers or translators). If Slate’s growing list is overwhelming, you can just donate money at this ActBlue page to fund eight organizations fighting for immigration rights, including the ACLU and Kids In Need of Defense, which provides legal representation for children.

The newsletter “Activism for Non-Activists” includes an easy script for calling your congressional representative (which does make a difference), plus some first steps for protesting, volunteering, and checking that you’re still registered to vote.

You can follow Lifehacker’s coverage of immigration resources, and our sister site Splinter’s news coverage of family separation at the border to stay up to date on the situation.

Tech News

America can't solve its migrant labor crisis with automation

May 31, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


From the moment that Donald Trump set foot on the Trump Tower escalator, the promise of mass deportations for undocumented immigrants was a pillar of his presidential campaign. This is one promise that the current administration has managed to keep, with ICE enforcement efforts skyrocketing since Trump took office in January 2017.

While the president’s executive orders on immigration have played well with his political base, they’ve caused havoc with a number of US industries, from tourism to construction. But nowhere are the detrimental effects of these policies more clearly illustrated than in the agricultural sector. What’s more, the current state of agricultural automation appears woefully unprepared to fully supplement the loss of migrant labor.

Sindhuja Sankaran, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at Washington State University, points out that a majority of automated agricultural systems still require human oversight. “The seeding is done in automation,” she told Engadget. “The harvesting is done in an automated manner. There’s still a person driving a tractor or machine.”

No matter how much progress we make with automation, Sankaran continued, humans will need to remain involved in the decision-making process, at least for the foreseeable future. And given that virtually all tree-fruit harvesting is still performed by hand, the sudden elimination of human labor could prove economically disastrous.

“Farmers are afraid they won’t be able to harvest what they plant,” Steve Ammerman of the New York Farm Bureau told The Atlantic last year. “It means food prices are going to go up, hurting national security.”

We’re not talking about a few dozen farm hands being deported back across the border. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, the number of undocumented immigrants living in the US in 2015 totaled 11 million people, or 3.4 percent of the country’s overall population — down from the 2007 peak of 12.2 million (4 percent of the national total). They’ve primarily settled in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Texas.

Eight of those 11 million immigrants were employed in the civilian workforce in 2015, contributing an estimated $11.6 billion to the US economy, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). That includes nearly $7 billion in sales taxes and another $3.6 billion in property taxes.

The ITEP report also points out that in the American agricultural sector, an estimated 16 percent of the entire industry is composed of undocumented workers. However, undocumented peoples make up a staggering 70 percent of the industry’s fieldworkers, according to a March 2017 study by Farm Credit East (FCE). In New York state alone, the FCE study notes that 1,080 farms are in danger of significantly shrinking — or failing outright — due to ICE’s enforcement measures.

If the president has his way and every undocumented worker in New York were deported, the FCE study figures that the state’s agricultural output would drop by 24 percent, or $1.37 billion. Twenty-one-thousand