Friday, September 18, 2020
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Welcome to the hot seat

Zoom has zipped at hyperspeed along an all-too-familiar arc for hot Silicon Valley startups — from a ubiquitous D.C. darling to an object of suspicion and scrutiny.

Just weeks after emerging as the video platform of the locked-down era, where millions of people and some of Capitol Hill’s biggest players are holding business meetings, yoga classes, play dates and happy hours online, the nine-year-old California company faces scrutiny from Congress and elsewhere for a barrage of security and privacy lapses. Those include revelations about leaked videos, undisclosed sharing of personal data, weaker-than-advertised encryption and a disturbing new form of mass harassment known as “Zoom bombing.”

The furor has already brought a class-action lawsuit in California, investigations by attorneys general in states such as Connecticut and Florida, and pressure from members of Congress to tighten its practices. It also increases the odds that whenever the Capitol returns to normal, Zoom — a company with up to now little-to-no Washington lobbying muscle and almost no history of campaign donations — will join industry giants like Facebook and Google in the hot seat of D.C.’s tech backlash.

The speed of Zoom’s political rise and fall has been dizzying, considering how many years it took for much larger tech companies to see their popularity curdle in Washington.

“There’s a new thing almost every hour,” Justin Brookman, consumer privacy and technology policy director for Consumer Reports, said of the stream of damaging Zoom revelations.

“It’s like if Facebook had operated for 10 years under the radar and all the questionable project decisions that they made kind of got baked in, and then all the sudden they became wildly famous and then it all came to [a head] at once,” he added.

Zoom Chief Executive Eric Yuan, who founded the company in 2011, chalked up its latest woes to the sudden glare of the spotlight, writing this week that “we did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home.”

The company said the peak number of daily participants on its conferences has multiplied more than 20-fold from December to March, soaring above 200 million a day. Zoom has also quickly become a staple on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Silicon Valley’s own Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) publicly using the service for meetings and Q&As with reporters.

Yuan promised to focus the company’s resources over the next three months on addressing the regulatory and consumer concerns. But lawmakers and other government leaders said they’re not letting up until the company takes meaningful steps to fix its flaws.

“My concerns have not been allayed at all,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Thursday in an interview, referring to the use of “Zoom bombing” to spread hate speech and pornographic content in settings like online classes. “A blog post is no substitute for action and the vile hate groups are continuing to harass Zoom users, intruding on their meetings and spreading their abuse, and I want to see Zoom actually protect its users, not just try to message the problem away.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Zoom’s security lapses could disrupt efforts to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

“As so many American businesses depend on video conferencing services to keep our economy going during this pandemic-forced new normal, we cannot risk complacency in our online privacy and security,” Blackburn said in a statement. “Zoom must do more to enact stronger security standards and immediately halt unauthorized data sharing with third parties.”

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Why are we hiding our personal finances from loved ones?

While romance may be brewing ahead of Valentine’s Day, so are some dirty secrets.

About 44% of U.S. adults admit to hiding a bank account or debt, or to spending more money than their partner would be comfortable with, according to a new study from, which surveyed 1,378 adults who are married, in a civil partnership or living with their partner. That number was included in a survey of 2,501 adults from

So why are people committing financial infidelity? More than one-third say they do it for privacy or a desire to control their own finances.

“Money is such a taboo,” says Ted Rossman, an industry analyst at “People would rather talk about other uncomfortable topics like religion or political views than money. This is really unfortunate because hiding that kind of a secret can hold back your financial future and undermine trust.”

Retirement planning: Millennials are stashing money away earlier

In sickness and in health, but not in debt: Young Americans avoid ‘I do’

Roughly 34% of the 1,378 respondents say they believe they’ve spent more than their significant other would tolerate.

About 17% of those surveyed have kept a secret account (10% credit card, 9% savings, 8% checking) while 12% have carried some amount of hidden debt.

Americans between the ages of 24 and 39 in relationships are much more likely than Gen Xers and baby boomers to have committed financial infidelity with their partner, the study shows.

One reason why: Millennials are more likely than Gen Xers and boomers to have divorced parents, which has likely caused them to be more protective of their own finances, according to experts. Overall, 57% of these millennials have committed financial infidelity compared to 45% of Gen Xers and 37% of boomers.

Over one-quarter of adults say that financial infidelity is worse than an affair. That was out of a larger pool of respondents regardless of relationship status.

Men (47%) were slightly more likely than women (43%) to admit to keeping a financial secret.

About 21% of respondents say they have kept their finances hidden in case a relationship ends poorly.

Those in the highest income bracket, making at least $80,000 a year, were much more likely (39%) than those in lower-income brackets (20%) to say they kept secret finances because they were “embarrassed” about the way they handled their money.

“An awful lot of people are keeping financial secrets from their partner,” Rossman says. “But these topics don’t have to be scary, intimidating or embarrassing. If you’re sharing a life with somebody, it’s something you need to talk about.”

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Britney Spears posts reassuring message

“All is well,” and Britney Spears will be back soon. That’s what the singer told her supporters Tuesday night.

The pop star icon went on Instagram to address rumors that have circulated on social media in the past weeks and let her social media followers know she is doing “what’s best at the moment” and that she needs a “little bit of privacy to deal with all the hard things that life is throwing my way.”

“My family has been going through a lot of stress and anxiety lately so I just needed time to deal,” she said. On her caption, Spears added, “You may not know this about me, but I am strong, and stand up for what I want!”

Earlier this month, People magazine reported the star had checked into a facility to seek “all-encompassing wellness treatment.” At the time, Spears posted a photo about self-care on Instagram with the caption, “We all need to take time for a little “me time.”

In January, the “Circus” singer also stepped back from her “Domination” residency in Las Vegas because of her father’s health issues, who, she wrote, was hospitalized and “almost died.”

In a press release, her reps said Spears’ father was hospitalized due to his colon “spontaneously” rupturing and remained in the hospital for 28 days.

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Trump issues first veto of his presidency

The resolution against his emergency declaration was a stunning bipartisan rebuke to Trump, but lawmakers currently do not have the votes to overturn his veto.

Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency Friday afternoon, rejecting a congressional resolution that would have blocked him from funding his border wall without congressional approval.

“Consistent with the law and the legislative process designed by our founders, today I am vetoing this resolution,“ Trump said. “Congress has the freedom to pass this resolution, and I have the duty to veto it. And I’m very proud to veto it.”

The president’s veto comes a day after 12 Republicans joined Senate Democrats to rebuke the president’s decision to declare a national emergency last month in order to redirect funds to build a wall on the southern border.

The resolution was a stunning bipartisan rebuke to Trump, but lawmakers currently do not have the votes to overturn his veto.

Trump on Friday was flanked by a crowd as he approved the veto in the Oval Office, including Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. A group relatives of people purportedly killed by undocumented immigrants, called “angel parents” by the president, and law enforcement representatives also attended the veto signing.

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Twitter tests conversation ‘subscriptions’

Twitter is testing yet another new feature: a “subscribe to conversation” button that would let users follow a thread without liking or replying to it. Twitter user and software engineer Jane Manchun Wong (who’s known for finding this kind of thing) discovered the prototype in the Android version of the app. In response to her tweet about it, Twitter said this is an attempt to make the platform more conversational. It’s now the latest in a flood of changes we’ve seen from Twitter.

This new tool adds a button to the top right corner of threads. If you click it, you’ll be notified when additional tweets are added to the thread. Because you don’t need to “heart” or comment in a thread to receive updates, this could add a bit of anonymity. There’s no indication yet if or when Twitter will deploy the change platform-wide, though.

Earlier this week, the company released its experimental beta testing app, Twttr, which will let early adopters test new Twitter features. First, it’s giving threads a chat-like look with color coding and indentation. At the beginning of the month, the company confirmed it’s working out a way to hide unwanted replies en masse (this was also discovered by Wong).

In February, we learned the company is testing a way to preview user profileswithout leaving your timeline. It’s also testing an “original tweeter” label, which will show which account started a thread, and it added a chronological timeline button on Android. Finally, at SXSW, Twitter revealed a new camera for the app, which will make it easier to share photos and videos.

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Can House Democrats really protect Obamacare?

House Democrats who swept back into power on the promise to protect people with pre-existing conditions face tough legal and political choices as they try to make good on that vow.

Those promises galvanized millions of voters. But now, like the Republicans previously elected on promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, they face the formidable challenge of turning campaign rhetoric into reality.

And with the Senate and White House still in Republican hands, Democratic leaders have only one surefire weapon in their arsenal: a resolution to jump into the court fight over Obamacare’s consumer protections. That would empower the House Counsel to intervene in the lawsuit brought by 20 conservative state attorneys general that threatens to abolish the health care law.

“There’s a clear picture that the thing we will definitely do quickly is intervene in the lawsuit” to defend the law, a Democratic leadership aide told POLITICO.

Beyond that, their strategy is still up for grabs: Several key Democrats promise a more confrontational approach that includes early showdown votes with Republicans in Congress over the law’s future. First on that agenda: legislation strengthening Obamacare’s popular pre-existing condition protections that would force GOP lawmakers to go on record for or against a law that many worked for years to kill.

“Let’s nail them down,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “A bunch of Republican candidates did a complete U-turn on the pre-existing condition question, and they made it back into office based on that profession of faith. Now, everybody should be asked to commit and vote.”

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