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Push for Facial Recognition Privacy Standards Hits Roadblock

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(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Retailers have the ability to scan your face digitally, and use that identification to offer you special prices or even recognize you as a prior shoplifter. But should they use it? Should they get your permission first?

Privacy advocates announced Tuesday they have walked away from a government-run effort with industry intended to answer these questions. The idea behind the negotiations was to hash out voluntary protocols for facial recognition technology in a way that doesn’t hurt consumers. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, was acting as mediator.

The two sides had been meeting for 16 months, including last week, until the nine major privacy groups said they had hit a dead end and that “people deserve more protection than they are likely to get in this forum.”

“At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement — and identifying them by name — using facial recognition technology,” the groups said. “Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise.”

Industry groups said they still believe consensus could be found on issues like transparency, notification and data security.

“We all want the same outcome — to help users be comfortable using online services with confidence that their privacy will be protected,” said Carl Szabo, policy counsel for an e-commerce trade group with Google and Facebook among its members. “Some of us have different opinions about what that outcome looks like.”

Microsoft said in a statement that it supports the idea that consumers have to agree to be recognized with biometric software before it can be used.

An NTIA spokeswoman said the government believed that progress had been made and the work will continue. “The process is the strongest when all interested parties participate and are willing to engage on all issues,” said NTIA’s Juliana Gruenwald.

The debate on facial recognition is only likely to grow bigger in coming years as it becomes more ubiquitous. Facebook, for example, has long used facial recognition technology on its site, and just announced a new companion mobile app called “Moments” that scans a phone’s camera roll to ease photo sharing. Microsoft says it is building facial-recognition and fingerprint-identification technology into Windows 10, the new computer operating system coming this summer.

The biggest concern, however, among privacy groups is use of the technology by retailers, including casinos, to target and profile people. One company, FaceFirst, announced last year that its system is capable of processing more than 1 million facial matches per second per server, making it ideal for these customers. So long as a company has an existing photo of “persons of interest,” from shoplifters to “your best customers,” retail staff can be sent an email or text alerting them of that person’s arrival.

The ability to apply a unique signature to a person’s face, even if you don’t identify them by name, is particularly invasive, according to privacy advocates. They argue that industry has little incentive to adopt tough standards and that Congress should pass general privacy legislation that applies to different technologies.

“You can change your password and your credit card number; you cannot change your fingerprints or the precise dimensions of your face,” the privacy groups said in Tuesday’s statement. “Through facial recognition, these immutable, physical facts can be used to identify you, remotely and in secret, without any recourse.”

Groups that signed the letter included the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Common Sense Media, Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog and the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University Law Center.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Activism

With Union Contract OK’d, Moe’s Books Workers Get Improved Wages, Benefits 

Despite some mixed feelings from workers about the owner’s reactions to the union, both workers and ownership expressed optimism about what they think the Moe’s Books union can do for the future of the four-story store with over 200,000 mostly used books. “If customers see the positive impact of shopping at independently owned stores that do all they can to support their workers,” said Moe’s Books owner, Doris Moskowitz, “then this agreement will only make Moe’s Books’ future stronger.”

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Moe’s Books Union members Phoebe Wong (left), Owen Hill (center), and Bradley Skaught (right) pose inside the Berkeley bookstore on November 30. Photo by Zack Haber.
Moe’s Books Union members Phoebe Wong (left), Owen Hill (center), and Bradley Skaught (right) pose inside the Berkeley bookstore on November 30. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Workers at Moe’s Books in Berkeley agreed to their first union contract with store ownership on November 23. The agreement has given them a $20 minimum wage, dental insurance, more paid vacation days, a new procedure for filing grievances, and job security protections.

“I think this is a good, solid contract, and a good starting point for improving worker/owner relations,” said Owen Hill, who’s worked at Moe’s for about 35 years. “I wish we had this 10 years ago, but better late than never.”

Moe’s Books owner, Doris Moskowitz, told this publication she’s happy with the contract as well.

“I feel great about the agreement,” said Moskowitz. “Supporting our workers is part of Moe’s 60-year legacy, and we are proud to continue in that tradition.”

In early March about 95% of eligible Moe’s workers agreed to form a union by joining with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The move was part of a growth in bookstore unionization spurred by COVID-related issues.

Workers at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle and Bookshop Santa Cruz each formed unions in 2020. This year, bookstore unionization has expanded as workers at Printed Matter in New York City formed a union in October, while workers at three different Half Price Books locations in Minnesota are awaiting election results in mid-December to certify their unions.

Immediately after its formation, Moskowitz recognized Moe’s Books Union, but she had mixed feelings about it. In early April, she told Berkeleyside she “deeply respected” the workers’ decision to unionize but that the move had also left her “very sad and confused.” Following initial negotiations related to COVID safety measures, the union and Moskowitz began its first contract negotiations. In total, both sides came to 35 agreements during 16 bargaining sessions over eight months.

“The bargaining process was long, tiresome, and sometimes tense,” said Hill. “But mostly people were respectful and tried to come to an understanding.”

According to Bruce Valde, an organizer with the IWW who works with Moe’s Books Union, the eight months it took to agree to the contract was comparatively quick. In his experience, it usually takes workers and ownership a year to a year-and-a-half to agree to a first union contract. Valde called Moskowitz’s choice to immediately recognize the union “wise” and lauded the workers’ collaboration in clearly stating their requests.

“I think the workers diligence in actually forming our positions was excellent,” said Valde.

Since the new contract has passed, all union members will soon be getting a 10% raise in their salaries, or a $20 an hour wage if the 10% bump doesn’t already exceed that wage.

They’ll also get a 3% wage increase during the second and third year of the contract.

Additionally, the contract has stipulations related to respecting employees’ gender and gender expression. Harassment violations now specifically include ownership or management commenting in an ostracizing manner on workers’ gender expression, including clothing choices or hairstyles, or not making a concerted effort to correctly use workers’ pronouns.

While the union members unanimously agreed to the contract and Moskowitz told this publication “I feel like it is a win-win” situation, workers claimed along the way that the owner wasn’t always respectful of the union. In late September, union members and supporters held an informational picket at the store to support their demand for the $20 minimum wage that was eventually granted, but also to share information with the public about how they thought the owners were practicing “union busting.”

Around this time, the union filed unfair labor practice claims to the National Labor Relations Board, one of which was related to their accusation that Moskowitz was offering promotions for the sole purpose of removing people from the union by placing them in management positions.

Barry Bloom, who works as a book shipper, claimed Moskowitz asked him if he’d agree to be the supervisor of the shipping department, a position that would prevent him from joining in the union. He was the only member of the shipping department at the time, and she didn’t offer him a raise.

“My immediate reaction was to wonder ‘who would I be supervising?’” Bloom said. “I pretty much instantly saw it as a union-busting tactic.”

Moskowitz denied the accusation of union busting, saying, at the time “We have not made any job offer or offers of promotions in order to encourage any employee to break from their support of the union.”

Soon after agreeing to the new contract, Moskowitz taped a statement to the front window of the store, expressing that she was proud of the contract and Moe’s openness to organized labor. The statement, which was posted to Moe’s instagram and Facebook accounts, also encouraged other businesses, specifically large bookstores, to allow workplace organizing.

“If a small, independent used-book seller can accomplish this while keeping the doors open during a global pandemic,” the statement reads, “there is no reason for more lucrative companies to claim labor organizing will shut down their business or harm their employees.”

Two days after the statement appeared on Moe’s books social media sites, Moe’s Books union’s Twitter account put up a post stating “There’s a little revisionist history going on over at the boss’s social media site.”

While largely happy with the contract, Moe’s Books worker Phoebe Wong told this publication she’s uncomfortable with the owners’ actions immediately following its ratification.

“I’m really pleased and so proud of the work everyone put into doing the contract,” said Phoebe Wong. “But it’s been a long fight. And, to be honest, it makes me a little queasy to see ownership touting pride because it seems pretty dishonest considering the pushback we got.”

Despite some mixed feelings from workers about the owner’s reactions to the union, both workers and ownership expressed optimism about what they think the Moe’s Books union can do for the future of the four-story store with over 200,000 mostly used books.

“If customers see the positive impact of shopping at independently owned stores that do all they can to support their workers,” said Moskowitz, “then this agreement will only make Moe’s Books’ future stronger.”

“Moe’s now offers good wages, good benefits, and job protection,” said Hill. “I think we have a lot to offer to workers, and that we will be able to employ top quality people. I don’t think I’m being too dramatic when I say that the union saved the business.”

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Bay Area

Ready to Travel? Get the REAL ID!  

The California DMV suggests changing your driver’s license or identification card to a REAL ID as federal laws will soon make it necessary to have either a passport, REAL ID, or other federally accepted forms of ID to board local flights and enter federal buildings.

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DMV Administrator Carrie Stanton. Photo courtesy of the author.
DMV Administrator Carrie Stanton. Photo courtesy of the author.

By Carrie Stanton, Regional Administrator (Region 2, Bay Area) of the California Department of Motor Vehicles

The holidays are here and families are excited to get together and celebrate for the first time in over a year. Amid the pandemic, we’ve missed far too many Sunday and holiday dinners that have been a tradition for many families for generations.

For our community, family dinner is about creating memories. For those families who will be traveling this holiday season, I encourage you to consider adding a REAL ID upgrade to your checklist when making your travel plans.

The California DMV suggests changing your driver’s license or identification card to a REAL ID as federal laws will soon make it necessary to have either a passport, REAL ID, or other federally accepted forms of ID to board local flights and enter federal buildings.

While getting a REAL ID isn’t required, it does make it easier to continue using your driver’s license to board a local flight or visit loved ones on military bases. To help make this change, the California DMV is offering free upgrades to people who renewed their license or ID card between March 2020 and July 2021 from now until Dec. 31, 2021.

Protecting the health, safety and security of our communities is what’s important and the REAL ID provides an extra layer of protection when traveling. Applying is easy and can be started safely online at CaliforniaREALID.org. Complete your application, upload the required forms, and plan your DMV office visit to finish. Don’t forget your documents and confirmation code– they will be needed for your visit.

Whether you are applying for a first-time California driver’s license or identification card or are up for renewal, a REAL ID may be the best option, especially if you plan to travel soon. Get back to creating those memories with your family. With shorter wait periods and an easy application process, now is the perfect time to start your REAL ID application so you’re ready to go when the time is right.

As we continue to recover from the pandemic, many things in our lives are changing. In our community, many have started businesses, changed their lifestyles for the better and found new passions in life. Whatever is helping you get through these rough times is also playing a part in figuring out our new normal. Make the REAL ID part of that new normal.

Carrie Stanton is Regional Administrator (Region 2, Bay Area) of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

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Bay Area

Mayor London Breed Announces Plan to Reform City’s Small Sites Housing Acquisition Program

“Our Small Sites program is an important part of our overall strategy to make housing affordable to all San Franciscans,” said Mayor Breed. “Preserving rent-controlled housing helps keep people in their homes, protects against displacement and evictions, and creates more stability in our neighborhoods as we make crucial decisions to build more housing in all neighborhoods. We are committed to working with our non-profit partners to reform and strengthen this program so we can make impactful investments in our upcoming budget and support the long-term viability of the Small Sites program.” 

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Supporting capacity in the City’s non-profit partners to make small sites deals and ensure that the buildings are financially sustainable.
Supporting capacity in the City’s non-profit partners to make small sites deals and ensure that the buildings are financially sustainable.

Improvements made in partnership with non-profits that help administer the program will ensure long-term success of important housing preservation and anti-displacement program

Mayor London N. Breed and Supervisors Myrna Melgar and Ahsha Safaí announced on Tuesday the next steps to strengthen and reform San Francisco’s Small Sites Program, which preserves rent-controlled buildings and prevents tenant displacement.

First launched in 2014, the City has helped acquire 47 buildings (368 units of affordable housing) through the Small Sites Program.

The Small Sites Program is run by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD), which works to acquire and preserve at-risk rental housing with three to 25 units.

The program was created to establish long-term affordable housing in smaller properties throughout San Francisco that are particularly vulnerable to market pressure that results in property sales, increased evictions, and rising tenant rents.

In the face of the increasing pressure, the Small Sites Program helps San Franciscans avoid displacement or eviction by providing loans to non-profit organizations to successfully remove these sites from the market and restrict them as permanently affordable housing.

While the program has been an important tool, challenges have impacted implementation and acquisition. Mayor Breed sat down with non-profit partners who work with the City on administering the program and agreed to a plan to reform over the coming months to ensure the long-term viability of the Small Sites Program. Those commitments include:

  • Undergoing a study on how to make the program more efficient and the model more applicable. This study will be conducted by the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF), which partners with the City on housing preservation and acquisition efforts. HAF’s recommendations are due in January.
  • Considering reform recommendations from the City’s housing partners.
  • Implementing programmatic reforms by the end of March 2022.
  • Supporting capacity in the City’s non-profit partners to make small sites deals and ensure that the buildings are financially sustainable.
  • Modernizing and reforming programming rules to ensure broader applicability geographically, including in neighborhoods currently left out of the program because of income limitations.
  • Ensuring that vacant units are immediately filled.

“Our Small Sites program is an important part of our overall strategy to make housing affordable to all San Franciscans,” said Mayor Breed. “Preserving rent-controlled housing helps keep people in their homes, protects against displacement and evictions, and creates more stability in our neighborhoods as we make crucial decisions to build more housing in all neighborhoods. We are committed to working with our non-profit partners to reform and strengthen this program so we can make impactful investments in our upcoming budget and support the long-term viability of the Small Sites program.”

“San Francisco’s vitality is dependent on keeping our current residents stably housed. The Small Sites Acquisition Program has so much untapped potential to save our diminishing rent-controlled housing stock and to keep our communities intact. We need to be bold and shift the way we have been doing things to meet this moment. Our City’s economic recovery is dependent on investing in the residents and businesses that are struggling to stay here,” stated Supervisor Myrna Melgar.

“The Small Sites program preserves existing affordable units for working families here in San Francisco through acquisition,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safaí. “Together with Mayor Breed and Supervisor Melgar’s leadership – we have renewed our support for this vital program and San Francisco’s middle-income families. We are committed to working with our local non-profit partners and I’m proud to help lead this process to increase affordable housing options for San Francisco’s working families.”

“We thank the Mayor for renewing her commitment to the City’s housing acquisition and affordable preservation program,” said Malcolm Yeung, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center. “While this has been a critical tool in preventing displacement of our most vulnerable residents, it has not always worked as planned. Not only do we have to expand accessibility to a broader range of San Franciscans, especially our lowest income, we have to make the program sustainable for the organizations that are doing the work of acquiring, rehabbing, and operating the housing.”

“MEDA is firmly committed to the proven, targeted approach of the City’s Small Sites Program to fight displacement. Since 2014, our nonprofit has made 33 critical acquisitions, keeping in their longtime homes hundreds of families and dozens of commercial businesses,” said MEDA CEO Luis Granados. “Our Community Real Estate team has been maintaining and growing the program throughout the pandemic, building our own capacity and that of our nonprofit peers so that we are all best positioned to continue to purchase Small Sites apartment buildings. In partnership with the City, we look forward to acquiring additional critical buildings as we further strengthen the program to ensure all properties are financially stable and that every unit becomes home to those most in need of affordable housing.”

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