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Tech Team

Dear readers,

Welcome to our first #TechAways edition of what we can only hope will be a better year. Amidst all the uncertainty, one thing’s for sure – 2021 will be even busier than 2020 on the Brussels tech front.

I’m Victoria Main, your guest editor. Along the way to becoming CEO at Cambre, I launched our popular #BrusselsCalling media series and our thriving tech practice. As a former journalist, it’s a given that I love helping tech organisations achieve their communications goals.

And in recent days we’ve seen the reputational challenges that some of the big players are facing. The ban on US President Donald Trump by Twitter, Facebook and others prompted such heavyweights as European Commissioner Thierry Breton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express concern about Big Tech’s regulation of the digital space. The criticism, coming as Europe’s crackdown on the power of the tech giants via the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act is wending its way through the European Parliament, will do nothing to soften the resolve of EU policymakers. Anyway, more on Big Tech’s tussle with the EU (and others) below, along with reading that we hope will help banish those January blues!

And if you’re interested in the digital trends that marked 2020 in the EU bubble and how associations are adapting their digital strategies for the new era – check out our latest EU Associations Digital Report.

To ban or not to ban…is it even a question? [TechCrunch]

Trump’s Twitter ban has laid bare the EU’s complicated relationship with social media platforms. European policymakers have long called these platforms out for their wild west ways – but when those platforms then try to implement their terms and conditions they suddenly wring their hands over freedom of speech. (Please note Trump’s 1st Amendment rights weren’t trampled, and he still has access to the White House Twitter account). We understand the tricky balancing act between protecting freedom of speech and confronting the power that these platforms have in society, but reducing online content regulation down to what is considered ‘illegal content’ would not have stopped the US Capitol attack. Hopefully the DSA’s article 26 will help bridge the gap between disinformation and illegal content.

“I warn you, Facebook… if I lose my temper, you lose your head!” [New York Times]

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni blocked Facebook in his country for having “arrogantly” removed fake pages and accounts linked to his government ahead of the general election that happened yesterday. According to Facebook, which said it was trying to maintain the pretence of democracy in Uganda, those accounts were involved in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” to manipulate public debate around the election. Social media platforms are currently attempting to hunt down and quash disinformation on their sites. While a noble cause, as we’ve seen in the current debate in the US, it is a cause that is creating further debates around freedom of expression. A fair and balanced answer to this issue seems nearly impossible to find…

I, Blueswarm [TechCrunch]

Are fish about to live their “I, Robot” moment? Harvard researchers have created a set of fish-shaped underwater robots called Blueswarm. They can autonomously navigate and find each other, cooperate to perform tasks or just placidly school together. By imitating not just the shape of a fish, but also the way it interacts with its fellows, these robots could get closer to reefs safely without alarming the sea life, monitoring their health or looking for specific objects. They might even be useful in search and rescue. So, fear not, fish, these robots mean well. Will Smith probably has bigger fish to fry anyways.

60 seconds of mental clarity [New York Times]

Research has shown that mental health issues of young people has increased over the years. While societal stigma is still an issue, increased self-awareness and a general recognition of the problem are signs of improvement. Therapy TikTok has risen as a new way of quite literally providing a modern solution to a modern problem. These 60 second videos offer digestible answers to complex questions. Are they perfect? Most certainly not, but they do lead to increased awareness. Not only awareness about our own problems but also the issues of our loved ones. 2020 has been hard on everyone. Let’s start 2021 in style and show people close to us that we “see them”.

The world’s smartest mask! 😷 [The Verge]

At (virtual) CES 2021 the company Razer announced its new smart mask, Project Hazel, which filters air that is breathed in, as well as the CO2 that’s being exhaled. To be as accessible as possible, the mask features a clear, transparent design so that people can see the wearer’s facial expressions and mouth. It also uses a built-in microphone and amplifier to enhance the user’s speech. And in case you’re thinking ‘this mask doesn’t seem futuristic enough’ – it includes customizable coloured LED lights. In the age where we all have a favourite mask, this one looks set to be very popular when it is eventually out of prototype-stage.

The age of automated everything  [Wired]

AI-powered screening software are becoming increasingly common in the recruiting process but are they any less biased than we are? That is the question the NYC Council is asking the tech industry in a new proposed bill to regulate algorithms used in hiring. If passed, vendors would be audited annually to make sure their tools do not discriminate. As the EU is shaping its digital future, lawmakers should make sure the appropriate safeguards are in place to help us understand what we’re doing and enable us to stay in control of new technologies.

About this week’s editor, Victoria Main

My journey to the role of CEO at Cambre began on a remote sheep station in remote Aotearoa New Zealand where I grew up. After 20-odd years as a journalist in Wellington, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Milan and Brussels, I moved to the ‘dark side’ to boost the media offer at a large consultancy. To gain in-house experience, I moved to Nokia as head of global media before joining the talented Cambre team of policy and comms consultants six years ago. Somewhere en route I picked up French nationality. Oh, and I’ll never grow out of media relations. Journalists are my favourite people.

In case you haven’t had enough… 

Pet Prosthetics Get a Boost From 3D Printing [Wired]

WhatsApp clarifies it’s not giving all your data to Facebook after surge in Signal and Telegram users [The Verge]

Algorithms are deciding who gets the first vaccines. Should we trust them? [Washington Post]

The Tech That Was Fixed in 2020 and the Tech That Still Needs Fixing [New York Times]

Facial recognition reveals political party in troubling new research [TechCrunch]

Period tracking app settles charges it lied to users about privacy [The Verge]