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Is Clubhouse Creating An Equitable Environment For All Its Users? – Forbes

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The hottest new platform on the block is the voice-based application Clubhouse. Weeks ago, it was announced that the invite-only app was estimated to have a $1 billion valuation. Clubhouse, which is currently only available for iOS users, is unique in that it allows users to have direct access to influencers, public figures, celebrities and even billionaires in a way that is unlike any other social media platform currently out. The app launched in March, which was an ideal time with so many people home due to the pandemic. With the excitement that has accompanied the new app, some worry that Clubhouse, which is still technically in beta mode, may be stifling voices that need to be heard. “I started noticing that people were getting censored,” shares MarQuis Trill, who is an entrepreneur, investor and business consultant who has amassed nearly 30,000 followers on the app. Trill has over 12 million followers across all his social media accounts and has collaborated with tech behemoths like Facebook and Google. Trill sat down with Forbes to share his experiences on Clubhouse and offers suggestions for how the app can create a more equitable and enjoyable environment for all users. “So…you have the original early adopters. You have the people that are young, they just utilizing the app for fun…then you have the multi-millionaires, the people that made millions of dollars from doing e-funnels, and websites and selling .coms…then you’re going to have the celebrities that are going to come. They haven’t even really got here yet. You have Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, but they make small appearances…from my experiences, there’s a lot of conversations between everyone trying to fight for the audience. And [there’s] not enough audience on the app, because Clubhouse curates everything. And what I mean by curate is that they put you in a category of what you’re speaking about and your titles, and who follows you, and what’s your network.”

Clubhouse users are encouraged to follow individuals that speak on topics that resonate with them. At any given time during the day, there are rooms on a range of topics from marriage and relationship advice and entrepreneurship, to race relations, holistic health and everything in between. Many users found the app refreshing because of the ability to speak freely about different subjects, especially those deemed more controversial, but the question still remains whether users are actually able to speak freely on the app. “They’re monitoring what people are saying and how they’re saying things. I know a few people that got their accounts suspended,” Trill explains. A constant struggle that the app has faced is ensuring that all users feel safe on the platform. Some have complained about the app’s moderation tools, which may not allow for fully controlling large conversations. Claims that the app allows anti-Semitism and racism have found their way into the public conversation. What’s noteworthy about Clubhouse is that amidst claims of racism, Black users have curated a distinct culture on the app. “Majority of the people that use the app are Black,” Trill indicates. “I think there’s about 60%-65% of the users [that] are Black.”

Though the app has a lot of potential and could be the next big thing, more must be done to ensure the safety of its users, especially those from marginalized communities. There must also be safeguards to make sure that users can speak freely about and moderate contentious topics. The app makes it too easy to weaponize the block button and use it en masse against any individual that a person doesn’t like. “Well, there’s definitely censorship, and they’re a brand-new app,” says Trill. “They haven’t been around long. They grew too fast. I’m sure they didn’t have more than 15 employees. You know? I got my account deleted…we were curating a room to teach people how to moderate…so, I was the example, but since you have an audience of new people coming in and out of the room, they didn’t know that I was the actual creator of the club that they were in and they were watching. So, they reported me…and then within two, three hours, my account was banned… I sent out numerous emails to the support team…never got anything back, even to this day. I’m back on the app due to my large Twitter following and [my followers] tweeting [the founders] over a thousand times…I got my account back that same day. But to the smaller users and the people that haven’t got an answer back, that had been waiting for weeks…that is a problem because…we don’t know what we can and what we can’t say on the application.”

When reflecting on the success of the app thus far, Trill goes on to say “Clubhouse was built [by] Black people at the end of the day. When the tech Silicon Valley people were on it, it was not popular. When Oprah was on it, and Gary Vee or whoever, Mark Zuckerberg, whoever was on it, it wasn’t popular. Didn’t get popular until the music industry jumped on board, didn’t get popular until the Black community got on the app. Once we got on the app, Black Twitter got ahold of it, and then it just went viral from there…so the Clubhouse app is built on the backs of Black people. We deserve some seat at the table, at the end of the day. And I can’t speak too much on what they’re doing, because they might be working with some Black people behind the scenes, but we just don’t know…but it’s like, they’re not working with the right ones because we would know…it would impact the culture and someone could speak about it. Somebody would be on stage in the town halls—we would know. And you need to make that known…it doesn’t need to be a secret. You need to let the community know…let the culture know that you’re working with people like us so we can feel safe on the platform. We can feel like we’re not getting used, or we can feel like somebody is in there that speaks our language. They need to curate the culture while they have it…they need to provide some type of security and some safeness so we can be able to use the app, and be comfortable using the app.”

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

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Cyberattack exposes lack of required defenses on U.S. pipelines

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The shutdown of the biggest U.S. fuel pipeline by a ransomware attack highlights a systemic vulnerability: Pipeline operators have no requirement to implement cyber defenses.

The U.S. government has had robust, compulsory cybersecurity protocols for most of the power grid for about 10 years to prevent debilitating hacks by criminals or state actors.

But the country’s 2.7 million miles (4.3 million km) of oil, natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines have only voluntary measures, which leaves security up to the individual operators, experts said.

“Simply encouraging pipelines to voluntarily adopt best practices is an inadequate response to the ever-increasing number and sophistication of malevolent cyber actors,” Richard Glick, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said.

Protections could include requirements for encryption, multifactor authentication, backup systems, personnel training and segmenting networks so access to the most sensitive elements can be restricted.

FERC’s authority to impose cyber standards on the electric grid came from a 2005 law but it does not extend to pipelines.

Colonial Pipeline, the largest U.S. oil products pipeline and source of nearly half the supply on the East Coast, has been shut since Friday after a ransomware attack the FBI attributed to DarkSide, a group cyber experts believe is based in Russia or Eastern Europe.

The outage has led to higher gasoline prices in the U.S. South and worries about wider shortages and potential price gouging ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.

Colonial did not immediately respond to a query about whether cybersecurity standards should be mandatory.

The American Petroleum Institute lobbying group said it was talking with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Energy Department and others to understand the threat and mitigate risk.

THIN STAFFING

Cyber oversight of pipelines falls to the TSA, an office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has provided voluntary security guidelines to pipeline companies.

The General Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog, said in a 2019 report that the TSA only had six full-time employees in its pipeline security branch through 2018, which limited the office’s reviews of cybersecurity practices.

The TSA said it has since expanded staff to 34 positions on pipeline and cybersecurity. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it supports mandatory protections.

When asked by reporters whether the Biden administration would put in place rules, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it was discussing administrative and legislative options to “raise the cyber hygiene across the country.”

President Joe Biden is hoping Congress will pass a $2.3 billion infrastructure package, and pipeline requirements could be put into that legislation. But experts said there was no quick fix.

“The hard part is who do you tell what to do and what do you tell them to do,” Christi Tezak, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, said.

U.S. Representatives Fred Upton, a Republican, and Bobby Rush, a Democrat, said on Wednesday they have reintroduced legislation requiring the Department of Energy to ensure the security of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. Such legislation could get folded into a wider bill.

The power grid is regulated by FERC, and mostly organized into nonprofit regional organizations. That made it relatively easy for legislators to put forward the 2005 law that allows FERC to approve mandatory cyber measures.

A range of public and private companies own pipelines. They mostly operate independently and lack a robust federal regulator.

Their oversight falls under different laws depending on what they carry. Products include crude oil, fuels, water, hazardous liquids and – potentially – carbon dioxide for burial underground to control climate change. This diversity could make it harder for legislators to impose a unified requirement.

Tristan Abbey, a former aide to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski who worked at the White House national security council under former President Donald Trump, said Congress is both the best and worst way to tackle the problem.

“Legislation may be necessary when jurisdiction is ambiguous and agencies lack resources,” said Abbey, now president of Comarus Analytics LLC.

But a bill should not be seen as a magic wand, he said.

“Standards may be part of the answer, but federal regulations need to mesh with state requirements without stifling innovation.”

 

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Marguerita Choy)

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U.S. senator asks firms about sales of hard disk drives to Huawei

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A senior Republican U.S. senator on Tuesday asked the chief executives of Toshiba America Electronic Components, Seagate Technology, and Western Digital Corp if the companies are improperly supplying Huawei with foreign-produced hard disk drives.

Senator Roger Wicker, the ranking member of the Commerce Committee, said a 2020 U.S. Commerce Department regulation sought to “tighten Huawei’s ability to procure items that are the direct product of specified U.S. technology or software, such as hard disk drives.”

He said he was engaged “in a fact-finding process… about whether leading global suppliers of hard disk drives are complying” with the regulation.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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Colonial Pipeline hackers stole data on Thursday

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The hackers who caused Colonial Pipeline to shut down on Friday began their cyberattack against the top U.S. fuel pipeline operator a day earlier and stole a large amount of data, Bloomberg News reported citing people familiar with the matter.

The attackers are part of a cybercrime group called DarkSide and took nearly 100 gigabytes of data out of Colonial’s network in just two hours on Thursday, Bloomberg reported late Saturday, citing two people involved in the company’s investigation.

Colonial did not immediately reply to an email from Reuters seeking comment outside usual U.S. business hours.

Colonial Pipeline shut its entire network, the source of nearly half of the U.S. East Coast’s fuel supply, after a cyber attack that involved ransomware.

 

(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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