Overnight Technology

Overnight Tech: Facebook finds no bias but vows to change trending feature

LEDE: Facebook on Monday responded to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune's (R-S.D.) letter about allegations that the trending topics section is biased against conservatives, and there's a lot to digest.

First and foremost, the company said that although its investigation found no evidence of system bias, guidelines used until July 2015 might have resulted in stories from non-mainstream outlets being excluded.

"This guidance may have in some instances prior to that date prevented or delayed acceptance of topics that were not covered by major news organizations," said General Counsel Colin Stretch in the letter. "This guidance ... was updated in July 2015 to permit reviewers to accept topics even if those topics were not being covered by major news organizations or verified pages or profiles."

But Stretch was clear: the investigation didn't find evidence of the systemic anti-conservative bias alleged in a Gizmodo article two weeks ago.

"In fact, our analysis indicated that the rates of approval of conservative and liberal topics are virtually identical in Trending Topics," said Stretch. "Moreover, we were unable to substantiate any of the specific allegations of politically-motivated suppression of subjects or sources, as reported in the media." Click here for more.

CHANGES COMING: The company said despite the fact that it found no evidence of bias, the company will nonetheless implement changes to the guidelines for running the feature. No longer will curators rely on a list of 10 prestigious news organizations to determine the validity of stories. They also will not use other lists that were previously guides for curating the trending section. The company will also "institute additional controls and oversight around the review team, including robust escalation procedures," according to Stretch.

WHAT FB'S INVESTIGATION LOOKED LIKE: Stretch gave Thune the most detailed description yet of Facebook's investigation into the bias allegations. Every current reviewer and copy editor on the team was interviewed, and the company says it also talked to former contractors. Stretch said the firm also looked at "data logs" for over 600 decisions made by reviewers.

THE HILL EVENT: Join us 5/24 for State of the Sharing Economy: A Discussion on the Future of Cross-Border Commerce, featuring conversations with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Navdeep Bains, Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development. Topics of discussion include: New markets created by technological innovation, the global sharing economy, and policy & regulatory reforms to protect personal and proprietary data. Register here.

HOUSE VOTES ON COMMS BILLS: The House rejected the Kelsey Smith Act during a vote on Monday night. The bill would have made it easier for law enforcement to get cellphone location data in emergencies, after critics warned about privacy concerns. House lawmakers approved three other communications related bills. Read more about the votes here.

LAWMAKERS WEIGH IN ON SET-TOP BOX PLAN: Lawmakers turned out on Monday to weigh in on the FCC's set-top box proposal. The biggest name was Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who echoed industry concerns about how the proposal might affect copyright and privacy protections. "I support the goal of greater competition and innovation in the marketplace for how consumers are able to access and watch video programming," Grassley said in a letter. "However, I am concerned that this proposed rule making would replace marketplace solutions with greater government regulation," he said. "Further, there are significant concerns as to how the FCC's proposal affects important consumer privacy and copyright interests."

He joined a number of other senior senators with concerns. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said last week he had worries about the proposal to open up the set-top box market. And Democrat Bob Menendez (N.J.) asked questions of Wheeler on Friday about how the proposal will affect minority programmers.

The plan has support, however, from other lawmakers. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said in February that "injecting new competition into the marketplace will save consumers money and pave the way for innovative retail alternatives to set-top boxes leased by pay-TV providers."

OPPONENTS MARK DEADLINE: The cable-led Future of TV coalition will hold a call on Tuesday featuring Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) to reiterate concerns about the proposal.

A CAUTION: People can still file additions to late-breaking reply comments, despite Monday's deadline, so the number of responses could still grow.

GOVERNORS CALL ON FCC: Ten governors asked the commission in a Monday letter to move forward with changes to contraband cell phone regulations. "The FCC should act to streamline regulatory review processes and allow states to implement cost-efficient technology in prisons, where the installation of such technology will not sacrifice the safety of the general public," they told Wheeler. Signatories include South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R). Contraband cell phone reforms are a priority of senior Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai.


Facebook said in a Monday letter that now-changed guidelines for its trending topics feature may have favored stories coming from mainstream media outlets.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) joined several other high-ranking colleagues on Monday in hitting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's plan to open up the market for television boxes.

Rep. Joe Barton wants another shot at the House Energy and Commerce Committee's gavel.

Americans used more than twice the amount of wireless data in 2015 than they did in 2014, according to an annual survey from a Washington mobile industry trade group.

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers are encouraging their colleagues to use end-to-end encryption to communicate.

A Romanian hacker who claimed to have broken into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal email server is expected to plead guilty to U.S. criminal charges in a federal court this week.

Apple CEO Tim Cook touched on encryption and cybersecurity during a weekend discussion with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The financial services industry is ratcheting up its support of legislation that would set nationwide data security standards and require businesses to notify customers following a breach.

Please send tips and comments to David McCabe, dmccabe@thehill.com and Mario Trujillo, mtrujillo@thehill.com

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