About IRS Facial Recognition – Spotlight #412

1. Good Monday Morning

Exhale. It’s January 31st. Tomorrow is February, when the Lunar New Year and Black History Month celebrations begin. 

Today’s Spotlight is 1,326 words — about a 5 minute read.

2. News To Know Now

Quoted:“[Last year] more than 95,000 people told the FTC that they’d been scammed with a con that started on social media.”— A Federal Trade Commission report detailing $770 million in losses, or an average of just over $8,000 per person. Perhaps surprisingly: people 18 to 39 were more than twice as likely to report losing money than older adults.

a) Apple and Microsoft reported strong earnings last week. Microsoft reported quarterly profit rose 21 percent to $18.8 billion. The company has $125 billion in cash reserves and intends to buy video game company Activision Blizzard with $70 billion of that. Apple also broke records. The company announced quarterly profits of $34.6 billion. Apple has $203 billion in cash. That cash hoard is bigger than the entire valuation of companies like Shell and McDonalds.

b) Snap Inc. is taking on drug-related content with new initiatives.The company said that 88% of drug related content is detected by AI and machine learning. They have also grown their law enforcement operations team and continue to work on blocking drug dealing information and attempts on the platform.

c) More than 50 nursing students each week are learning in George Mason University’s new Virtual Reality simulator lab. Students begin in a simulated hospital lobby and interact with peers and patients followed by individual debriefing. Up the road in Baltimore, researchers are using an autonomous robot to operate on pigs. The team reported that the robot made no errors while providing consistent suturing.

3. Search Engine News — Google’s Latest Idea to Classify People is Topics + Be Careful Changing URLs 


After resistance from browser makers and privacy experts, Google has abandoned its post-cookie world plans for a new notion: assigning dynamic topics to individuals.

As outlined now, Google will assign three different topic groups for each person every three weeks. There will also be some false data included to make uncovering identities more difficult. Google believes more privacy is assured by making 300 larger topics instead of 30,000 smaller ones under their previous proposal. 

The plans won’t make anyone anonymous on the web. Right now, they’re still in proposal stage, and only applicable to Google’s Chrome browser, which has about 65% market share globally and 50% in the U.S.

On the search side, Google released a short video reminding people that software can make changing a website’s URL structure seem like a small task, but this is considered a site move — even if the only change is to remove a trailing slash from the URL. Google also advises that the updates won’t be completed on its end for several months and that any redirects should be left in place for at least one year. 

Stash this video away for when an exec or board member has an idea to change things up.

4. Spotlight Explainer — IRS Facial Recognition

The IRS says that people using its website will have to scan their faces to access individual tax information like transcripts and other personal data. Logging in with facial recognition is NOT required to file a return or retrieve forms. Here is what the new login process looks like.

IRS facial recognition login

You’ve probably already guessed that it’s much easier to find people who disapprove than to find people who approve.

Why do I have to do this?

Anyone accessing data about their taxes (refund status, tax transcripts, etc.) will have to do this although the Treasury department is signaling that they are reconsidering

Who is ID.me?

The privately held suburban Virginia company started out by providing identity services in the military and state government sectors. Last year, the IRS announced this change around Thanksgiving and just as the Omicron variant was being identified. That may be why you don’t remember.

Why facial recognition?

Remember that one-to-one facial recognition is a smart way to verify someone’s identity and usually more secure than relying on passwords, even passwords backed up by two factor authentication. The privacy problem begins when images are used in a one-to-many environment such as identifying protesters or for law enforcement purposes. 

Isn’t it a bad idea to start with taxes?

Many federal agencies already use a system called Login.gov that reportedly has 30 million users. There are also multiple state governments using identity verification for benefits such as COVID relief payments or unemployment.

How does it work?

After some pretty usual steps like entering an email address and telephone number (both of which are verified), users are prompted to upload images of their driver’s license or passport. That data is then aggregated with your phone, email, and a credit verification that the company says does not affect your credit score. If the automated systems don’t detect a match, you can enter a video call with an ID.me employee who will try to ascertain your identity.

Who is against this?

Pretty much every privacy expert you’ve ever heard of and many members of Congress. Their biggest complaints center around outsourcing all of the data services to a private company and lack of transparency around that data. There are also significant concerns regarding people who don’t have easy access to smartphone technology.

 5. Did That Really Happen? — FL Governor Lies About COVID Treatments

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is being dishonest when he says that the Food & Drug Administration has limited the use of monoclonal antibody treatments previously used as COVID-19 therapeutics. DeSantis inaccurately wrote on Twitter that the FDA had canceled the medication’s emergency use authorization with no physical evidence. In truth, the manufacturer of the medicine and the FDA agreed that it is “highly unlikely” to be useful against the Omicron variant. Read: Reuters fact-check

6. Following Up — NSO Pegasus Spyware

We’ve been telling you about the Pegasus software used to crack phones that has been found installed on mobile devices used by heads of state, activists, reporters, and business leaders. The New York Times continues to publish excellent coverage, including this description of when the FBI installed the software on burner phones with dummy accounts:

What they could see, minutes later, was every piece of data stored on the phone as it unspooled onto the large monitors of the Pegasus computers: every email, every photo, every text thread, every personal contact. They could also see the phone’s location and even take control of its camera and microphone. 

7. Protip — How to Cover Your Tracks

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great browser tool called Cover Your Tracks that tests your browser to see how much data you share with websites. I got high marks for my Brave browser and VPN, lower marks for allowing ad tracking, but uh, that’s kinda my job, so there’s that.

8. Screening Room — Dove on Hair Discrimination

Race-based hair discrimination starts as early as five years old, according to this poignant Dove commercial that asks for a signature on the CROWN Act petition.

9. Science Fiction World — The Virtual Human

Software company Unity, the outfit behind the technology used by many video game companies, bought Ziva Dynamics. They in turn showed off this amazing video of a virtual human — literally a simulation not based on any specific person.

 10. Coffee Break — Incredibox

Music for all is available at Incredibox with one simple requirement: you have to create the mix of samples used. But it’s free to try and really addicting.

 11. Sign of the Times

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