Who is Emma? A look at the privacy concerns regarding USCIS’s virtual helper

By: Andy Paroff


Meet Emma

If you ever happen to visit the website for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you might notice a friendly-seeming face pop up in the corner of the screen. That face belongs to Emma, a “computer-generated virtual assistant” who can “answer your questions and even take you to the right spot on [USCIS’s] website.”

What is a chatbot?

The existence of pop-up chatbots such as Emma is relatively old in internet terms, some of them have been around for a decade or more. In fact, Microsoft’s Clippy came to their Word software in 1996, giving many computer users a bad first experience with virtual assistants. Today, chatbots usually appear on websites, asking how they can direct you to what you are interested in finding. Chatbots can be a helpful and interactive alternative to making a call or sending an email. However, one does not generally expect to see a chatbot on a governmental agency website, especially when that agency is often roiled in accusations of human rights abuses and other controversial debates. The smiling face of a chatbot might make someone feel they can share information they otherwise might not share with a USCIS agent over the phone or in person. But what information does Emma gather and what information does Emma retain when one is done using its features?

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Cameras to Catch Carpool Lane Cheaters

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By: Samantha Pelto

High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes.

HOV (or carpool) lanes benefit society significantly if their restrictions are followed, but their benefits are often stunted by carpool lane cheaters. The purpose of carpool lanes is to maximize the movement of commuters, and they are prevalent in areas with heavy traffic. They are generally restricted for use by vehicles occupied by more than one person. This incentivizes commuters to carpool or ride the bus. This has the potential to significantly reduce traffic because one bus alone is able to carry the same number of people as over forty-five cars. However, there are also incentives to violate carpool lane restrictions.

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Political Influencer Marketing: Aye or Nay?

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By: Shelly Mittal

If you thought influencers are marketing only lifestyle products, you are probably in for a surprise. The 2020 presidential election is featuring all kinds of political influencer marketing to endorse presidential candidates. For example, Mike Bloomberg paid highly followed influencers to boost his presidential campaign. As the New York Times reported, he recruited Instagram influencers, including Meme 2020, to post satirical memes about him to gain attention and support for his presidential bid. In another effort, the Super PAC, United We Win used influencer platform AspireIQ to connect with influencers to endorse presidential candidate Cory Booker. The campaign was taken down after BuzzFeed published the story. Similarly, Super PAC NextGen has been working closely with influencers to mobilize young voters.

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Unclear Boundaries in Music Copyright Law: How Much Can an Artist Actually Own

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By: Alexandra Bartos-O’Neill

If you listen to the recording of “Dovunque al Mondo” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Madama Butterfly, you may hear something familiar in the first seven seconds. At the beginning of his aria, Giacomo Puccini draws a section from the U.S. National Anthem (“O say, can you see..?”) before it quickly transitions into the rest of the aria. Puccini specifically chose and “quoted” the U.S. National Anthem to introduce the U.S. Navy and signal the character Pinkerton’s arrival, giving the music added depth and inserting a clever “inside joke.”This practice has traditionally been called “musical quotation,” as if the composer’s music has “quoted” another piece like an essay would a book.

Historically, and as evidenced by the U.S. Constitution’s First Article, protecting people’s ideas and inventions by implementing copyright laws was meant to encourage innovation, since individuals would feel a sense of ownership of their work and be credited for their accomplishment. When applied to music, this concept translates to encouraging musicians to create new music by creating ownership over musical innovations. The element of borrowing has always been a part of the history and creation of music, yet legal battles have shown a preference of artists to assert ownership over parts of their music, including parts that may be considered fundamental.

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Fortnite Dances: Copyright vs. Right of Publicity

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By: Alex Nelson

Fortnite is a large-scale multiplayer video game which allows 100-players to battle against each other as they race to find weapons, build structures to protect themselves, kill the opposition, and become the last person standing. For the non-gaming community, Fortnite is still worth paying attention because it is a cultural phenomenon amongst the younger generations. From June 2018 to March 2019, 125 million new players registered for Fortnite, putting the total number of registered players at nearly 250 million. Fortnite is free to download and play but includes a great deal of in-game purchases. Even though the initial game is free, these in-game purchases can provide a staggering $203 million in profit per month.

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