There’s a lot to catch up on at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s not all related to the pandemic.
Despite global computer chip shortages and shipping problems, the United States has made headway on a few other pressing technological issues. Changes to Facebook and some of its more troubling practices, increased government funding for services like cybersecurity and transportation, and improved consumer access to electronics repairs are just a few of the major technological developments to be thankful for this year.
Using the right to repair, we can cut down on tech waste and headaches.
Every year, nearly three million tons of e-waste enter landfills as out-of-date or non-repairable electronics are discarded in favor of faster, newer electronics. The costs and difficulties associated with fixing a gadget in the first place are a major reason why so many items are scrapped in favor of new ones—but the US has recently taken steps to make this a little bit easier.
Over the summer, President Joe Biden issued an executive order aimed at reducing monopolies that make it difficult to get smartphones, laptops, and other products repaired directly. The order directs the Federal Trade Commission to hold manufacturers accountable for limiting access to necessary repair parts and making in-house repairs expensive.
In light of the executive order and right to repair activism, tech companies, including household names such as Microsoft, Apple, Motorola, HP, and Dell, have begun to make it easier to send in goods to be repaired, or for consumers to even make the repairs themselves. Apple recently announced its intention to make self-service repairs available for iPhones 12 and 13 in November, and Microsoft agreed in October to expand their device repair options, directly acknowledging the amount of electronic waste they generate each year.
Bringing cybersecurity, broadband, and transportation systems up to date
The bipartisan infrastructure act signed into law by President Barack Obama on November 15 will provide funding for some much-needed infrastructure projects, though critics argue that it is insufficient in some cases. Cybersecurity, universal internet access, and transportation are just a few of the issues addressed by the legislation.
The package includes $2 billion in cybersecurity funding over four years, with half of it going to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. Another $21 million will go to the Office of the National Cyber Director, a newer agency charged with advising the president on cybersecurity. Another $100 million will be allocated to dealing with significant hacking or ransomware incidents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.
The act also includes the largest-ever investment in broadband internet in the United States, totaling $65 billion. This is a rough estimate of how much it might cost to provide internet access to everyone in America, as many people do not have access to broadband infrastructure. This lack of access became even more apparent during the first year of the pandemic, when many people worked from home. Of the $65 billion, $42.4 billion will go toward a Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program, $14.2 billion will go toward subsidies to make internet more affordable, and $2 billion will go toward ensuring Indigenous communities also have workable connections.
The legislation includes a lot for transportation as well, but ferries, a vital mode of transportation for some in rural areas connected by waterways, received special attention with a $1.6 billion allocation. These boats make a significant difference in people’s lives and commutes from Manhattan to Southeast Alaska. The funding stream can help ferry systems deal with issues such as staff shortages and aging vessels. Some of it is specifically designated for bringing in electric and low-carbon emission ferries.
Putting an end to some of Facebook’s most criticized policies
Over the course of the year, Facebook, which continues to face widespread criticism, made a few critical changes to its platform. One of them was the removal of their Face Recognition system, which the company announced in early November. Account holders can still manually tag someone in a photo, but they won’t get suggestions on who to tag because the system won’t automatically store and recognize facial data. According to Facebook, more than a third of the site’s daily users have opted into this system since its inception and will all have their individual templates removed.
The contentious Instagram Kids project has also been halted following criticism from parents, elected officials, and others. Facebook was summoned before Congress after documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal revealed that the platform was interested in attracting and retaining a younger audience. The project has since been put on hold.
Facebook is also changing the way it distributes advertisements. Meta, its newly renamed parent company, will no longer recommend targeted ads about “sensitive” topics, a broad category that could include anything from religiously affiliated information to lung cancer awareness.
If that isn’t enough good news to keep the conversation going over dinner, mention how SUVs and pickup trucks are increasingly going electric, space food technology is pushing the limits, and online tutoring is becoming more accessible.