Tech Roundup - March 19, 2021

Sat, 03/20/2021

This week we begin our ‘Tech Roundup,’ where we will be highlighting some of the most significant/thought-provoking news items from the world of tech, especially at the nexus of law and technology. We are particularly interested in foregrounding tech news that is happening in Nebraska, and our region more broadly. If you have a news item you would like to see in the Roundup, please email


Silicon Prairie News- “UNMC scientists use new technology to discover SARS-CoV-2 mutations in Nebraska.”

  • Scientists at the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory have found mutations to the novel coronavirus using new technology that allows the state to track COVID-19 across Nebraska more precisely.

  • The technology enables scientists to conduct a new kind of whole-gene sequencing that helps officials confirm whether cases of COVID-19 reinfection come from the same clone of the virus or represent a mutated form of SARS- CoV-2.

Why it matters: As more strains of SARS- CoV-2 emerge around the world, each with different characteristics, it's important that the state of Nebraska be able to track what strains are prevalent in the state in order to develop an accurate risk profile and plan public responses accordingly. 


Nebraska Tech Collaborative- “Dissecting the Jobs Gap”

Nebraska has the third largest gap in the nation between supply of software developers and demand for those developers.

  • Why it matters: an adequate supply of experienced software developers is essential if the state’s burgeoning tech sector is to continue to grow. This illustrates why efforts to encourage young people to choose careers in STEM fields is important for the ongoing economic health of the state.

Silicon Prairie News- “Do Space provides free computer usage, internet access for those who need to sign up for COVID-19 vaccine”

  • “Nebraskans eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine can sign up through the state’s Department of Health and Human Services website. But what if someone lacks access to the internet? What if they are among the 11% of the U.S. population that does not own a smartphone, tablet or computer?

  • Do Space, Omaha’s community technology library and digital workplace, offers free access to computer equipment and Wi-Fi seven days a week. In an email, a spokesperson for the organization said Do Space has been a helpful resource for Omahans throughout the pandemic and continues to provide the technical support needed for open access to technology.”

Why it matters: evidence suggests that part of the reason that vaccine uptake has been slower in poorer communities is that senior’s in those areas lack the support/access to the internet in order to sign up for vaccination appointments online. Efforts like those at Do Space are essential in ensuring that the most vulnerable members of the population are vaccinated to the fullest extent possible. 



The Verge- “Beeple sold an NFT for $69 million”

  • Internationally-known digital artist ”Beeple” sold a piece entitled “Everydays — The First 5000 Days,” at Christie’s auction house for $69 million, despite the fact that the data file containing the artwork is publicly available and infinitely replicable. Ownership of the piece is instead conferred through a non-fungible token:

  • “NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are unique files that live on a blockchain and are able to verify ownership of a work of digital art. Buyers typically get limited rights to display the digital artwork they represent, but in many ways, they’re just buying bragging rights and an asset they may be able to resell later.” 

Why it’s important- as digital artwork becomes increasingly common, the fact that it can be reproduced with 100% accuracy simply by copying a file poses problems for artist’s trying to monetize their work. The solution of NFTs is a partial, if inadequate, solution to that problem, given that others can possess and display the very piece of art that the holder of an NFT technically owns.


Lawfare- “FBI Warns That Deepfakes Will Be Used Increasingly in Foreign Influence Operations”

  • “On Mar. 10, the FBI’s Cyber Division released a Private Industry Notification (PIN) warning that ‘Malicious actors almost certainly will leverage synthetic content for cyber and foreign influence operations in the next 12-18 months.’ The PIN explains that manipulated images or video—often referred to as “deepfakes”—can be investigated by the FBI when the synthetic content is malicious and “attributed to foreign actors or is otherwise associated with criminal activities.” 

  • “The report specifically highlights content generated with artificial intelligence or machine learning techniques. It alleges that Russian, Chinese and Chinese-language actors have already used these emerging technologies to create real-looking profile images of nonexistent people in an effort to make their messages appear more authentic to online users. As technology continues to advance, the PIN asserts, the public is increasingly likely to encounter fraudulent, synthesized content online.”

Why it matters: in a nation as riven with partisan divisions as our own, misleading videos where politicians appear to say things that they never did has the potential to further undermine our national discourse and make a shared baseline of fact ever harder to come by. 

Nebraska Governance and Technology Center Happenings


The Nebraska Governance and Technology Center- Podcast Tech Refactored, Ep. 10 - “The Basics of Facial Recognition Software: Bills, Bans and Uses”

In episode 10 of Tech Refactored, the panel discusses the phenomena of “facial recognition,” its uses and misuses. The episode was prompted by a question from a listener, Danielle Conrad, executive director of the Nebraska ACLU, who joins us to introduce this topic. 

Facial recognition technologies are tremendously powerful tools with a real danger of misuse. A number of states and jurisdictions have introduced bills that would ban government use of the technology, underscoring what a relevant issue they have become in the national consciousness. 


What Else We Are Watching

New York Times- “Facebook Agrees to Pay for Murdoch’s Australia News Content”

Facebook has agreed to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for its journalism content in Australia, a month after the social media platform temporarily blocked news links inside the country over legislation pressing digital giants to compensate publishers.


Politico- “Twitter sues Texas attorney general over investigation into content moderation practices”

“Twitter on Monday filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, seeking to stop the state’s investigation into its content moderation practices.

The social media giant said in its filing that the investigation requested by Paxton was an abuse of his power and a retaliatory action over Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend Donald Trump from the platform, which was the former president’s preferred method of communication with his supporters.” (...)


BNN Bloomberg- “Xiaomi Wins Court Ruling Blocking U.S. Ban on Smartphone Maker”

Xiamoi Corp., the world’s third-largest manufacturer of smartphones, won an injunction against the Defense Department that would have restricted U.S. investment in the Chinese company.” 

“In the final days of the Trump administration, the Defense Department placed Xiaomi on a list of companies with alleged links to the Chinese military, triggering financial restrictions that were scheduled to go into effect next week. But on Friday, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras put a temporary halt to the ban, siding with Xiaomi in a lawsuit that argued that the move was “arbitrary and capricious” and deprived the company of its due process rights.”


Bloomberg- Facebook to Publish Annual Report on Human Rights Impacts

“Facebook Inc. will start sharing public annual reports detailing the company’s impact on human rights, seeking to address criticism about the use of its products to organize abuses and violence against oppressed groups around the world.

Top executives, including head of global policy Nick Clegg and general counsel Jen Newstead, will also start providing formal human rights updates to the social media company’s board, and Facebook said it’s starting a new fund to pay for security and support for human rights activists and journalists.”

Tech Roundup March 19, 2021