Nov 9, 2018

Georgia’s secretary of state Brian Kemp doxes thousands of absentee voters

Georgia’s secretary of state and candidate for state governor in the midterm election, Brian Kemp, has taken the unusual, if not unprecedented step of posting the personal details of 291,164 absentee voters online for anyone to download.

Kemp’s office posted an Excel file on its website within hours of the results of the general election, exposing the names and addresses of state residents who mailed in an absentee ballot — including their reason why, such as if a person is “disabled” or “elderly.”

People on Twitter quickly noticed, expressing anger.

The file, according to the web page, allows Georgia residents to “check the status of your mail-in absentee ballot.” Millions of Americans across the country mail in their completed ballots ahead of election day, particularly if getting to a polling place is difficult — such as if a person is disabled, elderly or traveling.

When reached, Georgia secretary of state’s press secretary Candice Broce told TechCrunch that all of the data “is clearly designated as public information under state law,” and denied that the data was “confidential or sensitive.”

“State law requires the public availability of voter lists, including names and address of registered voters,” she said in an email.

That might be technically true. Voter and electoral roll data is public and available, usually for a fee, though rules vary state by state. Names and addresses of voters can be requested from each state’s electoral commission or secretary of state’s office. Political analytics firms often taken this data and supplement it with their own polling data to try to determine potential swing voters.

State laws put heavy restrictions on what can be done with voter data; rules that may not apply to the general public who can now just readily download hundreds of thousands of voter records.

It’s little surprise that the way Kemp’s office approached confirming absentee ballots was met with anger.

“While the data may already be public, it is not publicly available in aggregate like this,” said security expert Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, who lives in Georgia. Williams took issue with the reasons that the state gave for each absentee ballot, saying it “could be used by criminals to target currently unoccupied properties.”

“Releasing this data in aggregate could be seen as suppressing future absentee voters in Georgia who do not want their information released in this manner,” he said.

Not long after TechCrunch’s inquiry, the link to the downloadable file had been removed from the website.

Republican candidate for governor Kemp — at the time of writing — received 50.3 percent of the vote on Tuesday, ahead of Democratic rival Stacey Abrams, who currently serves as the minority leader in the state’s House of Representatives.

Kemp, who as secretary of state effectively runs the state’s elections despite running in one, has been accused of voter suppression in recent weeks, including accusing the Democrats of hacking his office’s election systems, citing no evidence. It’s not the first time he’s pulled the hacking card — Kemp tried a similar move two years ago.

Kemp was also responsible for purging the voter records of more than 50,000 minority voters ahead of this week’s elections.

Abrams has refused to concede in the race for governor, amid hopes of a runoff.



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Aug 14, 2018

Amazon may have to drop next-day delivery claim in UK

Observe.AI raises $8M to use artificial intelligence to improve call centers

Being stuck on the phone with call centers is painful. We all know this. Observe.AI is one company that wants to make the experience more bearable, and it’s raised $8 million to develop an artificial intelligence system that it believes will do just that.

The funding round was led by Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from MGV, Liquid 2 Ventures and Hack VC. Existing investors Emergent Ventures and Y Combinator also took part — Observe.AI was part of the YC’s winter 2018 batch.

The India-U.S. startup was founded last year with the goal of solving a very personal problem for founders Swapnil Jain (CEO), Akash Singh (CTO) and Sharath Keshava (CRO): making call centers better. But, unlike most AI products that offer the potential to fully replace human workforces, Observe.AI is setting out to help the humble customer service agent.

The company’s first product is an AI that assists call center workers by automating a range of tasks, from auto-completing forms for customers to guiding them on next steps in-call and helping find information quickly. Jain told TechCrunch in an interview that the product was developed following months of consultation with call center companies and their staff, both senior and junior. That included a stint in Manila, one of the world’s capitals for offshoring customer services and a city well known to Keshava, who helped healthcare startup Practo launch its business in the Philippines’ capital.

That effort to know call center operates directly has also shaped how Observe.AI is pitching its services. Rather than going to companies, it is tapping the root of the tree by offering its services to the call centers who manage customer support for well-known businesses behind the curtain. Uber, for example, is one of many to use Philippines-based support centers, but the Observe.AI thesis is that going directly to the source is easier than navigating large companies for business.

One such partner is Concentrix, one of the world’s largest customer support providers with over 100,000 staff and offices dotted around the globe, while the startup said it has tapped Philippines telco PLDT for infrastructure.

In addition to helping understand the problems and generating business, working directly with these companies also gives Observe.AI access to and use of data, which is essential for developing any AI and natural language processing-based systems.

Beyond improving its customer service assistant — which Jain likens to an ‘Alexa for call centers’ — Observe.AI is working to develop a virtual assistant of its own that can handle the more basic and repetitive calls from customers to help free up agents for callers who need a human on the other end of the line.

“We aim to eventually automate a large part of the call center experience,” Jain explained in an interview. “A good set [of customer calls] are complex but a large set can be fairly automated as they are simple in nature.”

The startup is aiming to introduce ‘voicebots’ before March 2020, with a beta launch targeted at the end of 2019.

“The kind of company that will disrupt call centers will come from the east — we truly understand the call center life,” Jain told TechCrunch.

He explained that, while Silicon Valley is a hotbed for tech development, understanding the problems that need to be solved requires spending time in markets like India and the Philippines.

“That knowledge is super, super valuable… someone in the U.S. can’t even think about it,” he added.

That said, Observe.AI is headquartered in the U.S., in Santa Clara. That’s where Keshava, the company CRO, is based with a growing team that is dedicated pre- and post-sales and to building relationships with major software platforms used by call center companies. The idea with the latter is that they can provide an avenue into new business by working with Observe.AI to add AI smarts to their product.

In one such example, Talkdesk, a U.S. startup that offers cloud-based contact center services, has added Observe.AI’s services to what it offers to its customers. Talkdesk CEO Tiago Paiva called the addition “a huge opportunity for call center efficiency and improving the caller experience.”

The startup’s India-based team is in Bangalore and it handles technology, which includes the machine learning component. Total headcount is 16 people right now but the founding team expects that will at least double before the end of this year.



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May 23, 2018

Bill Gates Names 5 Books You Should Read This Summer

It's something of a tradition. Every summer, philanthropist/Microsoft founder Bill Gates recommends five books to read during the slow summer months. This year's list, he tells us, wrestles with some big questions: "What makes a genius tick? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where does humanity come from, and where are we headed?"

And now, without no further ado, here's Bill's list for 2018. The text below is his, not mine:

Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson. I think Leonardo was one of the most fascinating people ever. Although today he’s best known as a painter, Leonardo had an absurdly wide range of interests, from human anatomy to the theater. Isaacson does the best job I’ve seen of pulling together the different strands of Leonardo’s life and explaining what made him so exceptional. A worthy follow-up to Isaacson’s great biographies of Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs. [Read his blog post on the book here.]

Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler. When Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, is diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, she sets out to understand why it happened. Is it a test of her character? The result is a heartbreaking, surprisingly funny memoir about faith and coming to grips with your own mortality. [Read his blog post on the book here.]

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about Abraham Lincoln, but this novel made me rethink parts of his life. It blends historical facts from the Civil War with fantastical elements—it’s basically a long conversation among 166 ghosts, including Lincoln’s deceased son. I got new insight into the way Lincoln must have been crushed by the weight of both grief and responsibility. This is one of those fascinating, ambiguous books you’ll want to discuss with a friend when you’re done. [Read his blog post on this book here.]

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, by David Christian. David created my favorite course of all time, Big History. It tells the story of the universe from the big bang to today’s complex societies, weaving together insights and evidence from various disciplines into a single narrative. If you haven’t taken Big History yet, Origin Story is a great introduction. If you have, it’s a great refresher. Either way, the book will leave you with a greater appreciation of humanity’s place in the universe. [Read his blog post on this book here.]

Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund. I’ve been recommending this book since the day it came out. Hans, the brilliant global-health lecturer who died last year, gives you a breakthrough way of understanding basic truths about the world—how life is getting better, and where the world still needs to improve. And he weaves in unforgettable anecdotes from his life. It’s a fitting final word from a brilliant man, and one of the best books I’ve ever read. [Read his blog post on this book here.]

You can find Gate's reading lists from previous summers in the Relateds below.

via Gates Notes

Related Content:

Bill Gates Recommends Five Books for Summer 2017

5 Books Bill Gates Wants You to Read This Summer (2016)

Bill Gates, Book Critic, Names His Top 5 Books of 2015

Summer 2014

Summer 2013

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